Boston Tunnel Closure Raises Fears of Slower Emergency Response

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By Alison Kuznitz
State House News Service

Grappling with the looming two-month closure of the Sumner Tunnel, six East Boston neighborhood associations have pressed city officials for a plan to reduce transportation times for Boston Emergency Medical Services, a Public Health Council member said.

Stewart Landers, an East Boston resident who represents the Massachusetts Public Health Association on the council, said the groups sent a letter to Boston Emergency Medical Services and the Boston Public Health Commission due to concerns over travel delays to hospitals during the tunnel restoration project for “people with serious events like cardiac events, stroke events.”

The tunnel is scheduled to be closed from July 5 through August 31.

“[We’re] trying to understand both the implications and their assessment of what those delays may look like and also what kind of mitigation effects they could take,” Landers, a senior consultant at John Snow Inc., said during the virtual meeting. “There are several creative ideas that have been proposed. I won’t go into detail, but I wanted to enter this into the record.”

Landers said he’s spoken with Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, who he said is aware of the letter and is planning a response.

Officials at a recent joint meeting between the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said they are adding extra ambulances and five shifts. Response times will be monitored and adjusted “as needed” during construction, according to a presentation highway administrator Jonathan Gulliver delivered.

Robbie Goldstein, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said the state’s Office of Emergency Medical Services is working “closely” with Boston Emergency Medical Services to monitor complaints and concerns.

“So far we have not heard of any such complaints related to the weekend or evening closures but … July 5 is a big day when this will be a permanent closure throughout the summer,” Goldstein said at the council meeting.

Although the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has encouraged people to use alternative modes of transportation beyond cars, Landers said that “often falls on fairly deaf ears.”

“There have been a lot of backups already at the [Ted] Williams Tunnel, even when the Sumner Tunnel was open during the week,” Landers said. “There have been great delays there, so residents are reasonably concerned when this tunnel is closed fulltime and especially weekdays.”


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