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A cool look at some convention-traffic hot spots

There will be no shortage of traffic hot spots during the Democratic National Convention next week, from Braintree to Back Bay to Somerville and Medford, but two revealing places to watch will be the South Boston waterfront and Charlestown, in part because of construction.

The Congress Street interchange of the Interstate 90 connector is going to be busy, as drivers come from north of the city to the Ted Williams Tunnel and take the South Boston exit for Congress (also called Seaport Boulevard) and the Fort Point Channel on the Congress Street bridge, which is being refurbished in a state-funded $16.4 million project. As Tim from South Boston wrote, shuttle buses turning left behind the Federal Reserve building have been causing backups on the span's restricted lanes. No suspension of the work is planned, said Boston Transportation Department spokeswoman Tracey Ganiatsos. She said the opening of the underground Silver Line busway will help. But that is not expected until November or December.

The situation may not be much better for those attempting to leave the city via the Ted Williams Tunnel because the underground I-90 connector will also be a busy place. From about 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., when Interstate 93 through Boston and feeder roads are closed, northbound I-93 drivers will be diverted onto the connector. (They can also go west on I-90 to Route 128 to get to points north.) But those who opt for the Ted will be joined by drivers coming from the west on I-90 and headed for southbound I-93. Their usual left-lane exit will be closed for emergency access, so they must continue east on I-90 as if headed for Logan Airport, take the West Service Road exit, and use the Haul Road (also known as South Boston Bypass Road), which will be open to all traffic.

Surface routes in South Boston won't be pretty, either. Construction crews are still working on the new D Street overpass, between Congress and Summer streets, requiring travel on winding temporary lanes. Also, the Broadway Bridge will be blocked off during closure hours; the West Fourth Street bridge is the alternative.

And what of Charlestown? During closure hours, the first opportunity to get on northbound I-93 will be the onramp just past Sullivan Square. That means taking the North Washington Street bridge -- open, though near the convention venue, the FleetCenter -- to Rutherford Avenue. City officials promise officers at the foot of the bridge and at City Square, but, as Laurie from Charlestown wrote, the crossing is thick with traffic on a normal day; she reported a one-hour bus ride from Post Office Square to City Square on a recent Tuesday.

Then there's the $8.6 million demolition of the Sullivan Square overpass, right at the spot where desperate commuters will be yearning for the wide-open lanes of northbound I-93. Jon Carlisle, spokesman for the Executive Office of Transportation and Construction, promised that the project will be "buttoned up" during convention week. Rutherford Avenue was repaved last week, but the area and the Sullivan Square rotary, outfitted with modernized traffic signals, will still look like a work zone; the flow may be slow.

A refresher on the big picture, you ask? Take a deep breath. At the request of the Secret Service, I-93 through Boston will be closed from about 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. the evenings of the convention, July 26 to 29. Southbound traffic north of the city will be restricted to two lanes starting at Route 128 and diverted at Medford. South of the city, northbound traffic will be diverted to I-90 at Exit 20, with the additional option of Frontage Road to downtown. At all times that week, one lane will be blocked off both north and south of the city on I-93 for bus and emergency vehicle access, from Route 128 inbound. During closure hours, the Sumner Tunnel and inbound Tobin Bridge will be shut; southbound traffic will be diverted off Route 1 in Revere. Inbound Memorial and Storrow drives will close beginning near Western Avenue; the same for the McGrath-O'Brien Highway at Land Boulevard.

The folks at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority say the transit system is the clear alternative, but there are serious issues there. Again, at the request of the Secret Service, the North Station commuter rail and subway station, at the FleetCenter, will be closed. Fitchburg line riders must transfer for the Red Line at Porter Square; Lowell line riders must transfer to a shuttle bus at Anderson-Woburn; Haverhill line riders make the switch to the Orange Line at Oak Grove in Malden; and Newburyport/Rockport line riders must transfer to a bus at Lynn, though they can take the Blue Line to Wonderland and catch a shuttle bus to Lynn on the return trip. The T has arranged for extra parking spaces at spots like the Route 128 station and put on extra trains on both the north and south sides. Green Line passengers must exit at Government Center or Haymarket for a shuttle bus to Lechmere, and the Orange Line won't stop at North Station. But the subway will be operating with rush-hour-like frequency at all regular hours. Lovejoy Wharf will be closed, but other commuter boats are open. Finally, all bags are subject to search, particularly large bags. No large bags are permitted on the Orange Line or on T buses that use I-93. The policy applies to all modes -- bus, subway, commuter rail, or ferry.

Meanwhile, the MBTA's Harbor Express ferry has announced uninterrupted service between the South Shore and downtown Boston and Logan Airport during the convention. See www.harborexpress.com.

For more information, go www.mbta.com and check out the pamphlet, "Taking the T During the DNC." For all information on traffic and transit, there's also the convention website, www.boston04.com, the Globe's website at www.boston.com/traffic, and Smart Routes Systems at www.smartroutes.com or *1 on a cellphone. Also call MassRIDES at 1-888-4COMMUTE.

Parking matters The city's pilot program for "pay and display" parking, on Union, Batterymarch, Water, and Kilby streets and the centralized pay-per-space system on Cambridge Street at City Hall Plaza was set to end in June, when the vendors vying to replace Boston's 7,000-plus coin-operated meters were supposed to take their demonstration equipment away (the old meters will be stuck back in the sidewalks at those locations). But the newfangled systems will remain in place through convention week and into August, said Dan Hofmann, deputy commissioner for field operations for the Boston Transportation Department.

The new systems, where drivers pay at a centrally located station, which accept dollar bills, for their spaces, will be evaluated for user-friendliness, ease of maintenance, and enforcement effectiveness, Hofmann said. One big plus is better "coin discrimination" technology to foil the use of slugs, he said, though the reported use of New Hampshire toll tokens (12.5 cents when bought in bulk) is not widespread. In the meantime, the coin sensors on all the old meters are being recalibrated, as they were a few years ago when scofflaws discovered that poking a strip of cardboard in the slot sometimes made the meter go out of order.

Sundays blues Southbound Interstate 95 is notorious for heavy volume Sunday afternoon and evenings, as vacationers return from Maine and New Hampshire. Drivers can breeze through the Hampton tolls without paying, thanks to the northbound-only toll system established by Governor Craig Benson. But last Sunday about 8:30 p.m., wrote Erik of Dorchester, a southbound lane was blocked in Massachusetts for resurfacing work, the equivalent of doing major construction work during rush hour on the Southeast Expressway.

The breakdown lane was available, explained Massachusetts Highway Department spokeswoman Judith Forman, but drivers weren't using it just in the work zone, leading to major tie-ups. Nevertheless, all work on southbound I-95 will be suspended Sundays. Instead, workers will do their thing there Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, when the heaviest traffic is heading north.

Pit stops At 8 a.m. Saturday, July 17, North Washington and Cross streets will be modified, according to the Big Dig. North Washington Street northbound between Cross and Thatcher streets will shift about 150 feet to the east, the left turn or U-turn from Cross to New Chardon street will move about 200 feet to the north, and Cooper Street from the North End will be reopened. . . . A large truck lost control last week, careered through the Sagamore rotary and crashed into the Bourne fire station. No one was hurt. The rotary and the fire station are set to be replaced in a $58 million grade-separated interchange project targeted for completion by 2007. . . . Why doesn't Governor Mitt Romney simply reappoint Christy Mihos to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board? It could be he plans to install state transportation secretary Daniel Grabauskas into the Mihos slot, to get a jump on the de facto state takeover of the authority. This month the Legislature passed a bill making the transportation secretary the chairman of the authority board, but not until 2007. Mihos, whose term has expired, was excluded from board proceedings last week. . . . Drivers have noticed that the cameras inside the Dewey Square tunnel are covered with bags, but Big Dig spokesman Doug Hanchett said temporary cameras to monitor accidents and incidents are operational; southbound I-93 traffic is being routed through the west bore of the renovated tunnel until early next year, when three new lanes open in the east bore, the last major milestone for the $14.6 billion megaproject . . . The Boston Common parking garage, run by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, in early fall will begin accepting credit cards for the first time, and plans also call for an automated teller machine.

Can't get there . . . The Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) eastbound between Exit 22 (Prudential/Copley) and South Boston will be closed Monday through Thursday, 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The ramp at Exit 20 from I-93 northbound to the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) eastbound and westbound will be closed Saturday from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The ramp from Frontage Road northbound to I-90 westbound at Broadway Bridge will be closed Saturday from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The ramp to I-90 eastbound to Logan Airport from South Boston at D Street will be closed Sunday from 11:45 p.m. to 5 a.m. The Haul Road or South Boston Bypass Road between Frontage Road and Cypher Street will be closed at the same time.

The Haymarket onramp to I-93 south and the Callahan Tunnel will be closed Monday through Thursday, 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The Haymarket onramp to I-93 north will be closed Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Tuesday through Thursday 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The Sumner Tunnel onramp to I-93 north will be closed Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Tuesday through Thursday 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The Atlantic Avenue onramp to I-93 north will be closed Monday through Thursday, 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

I-93 north near the Charles River will be closed Wednesday through Friday from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m.

I-93 south near Sullivan Square will be closed Tuesday through Friday from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m., and Saturday from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.The onramps from Storrow Drive and the Tobin Bridge will be closed at the same times.

The Rutherford Avenue onramp to the Tobin Bridge will be closed Sunday and Monday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The ramp from the Tobin Bridge to I-93 south and Storrow Drive will be closed Sunday through Tuesday from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

I-93 north Exit 27 to the Tobin Bridge and the Storrow Drive ramp to the Tobin Bridge will be closed Wednesday through Thursday, 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The Mystic Avenue onramp to I-93 south in Somerville will be closed Monday through Friday, 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Complain to us at starts@globe.com. Don't forget to send us your hometown. Outside the paper, the column can be found at www.boston.com/news/local/startsandstops/. Our mailing address is Starts & Stops, Box 55819, Boston, Mass. 02205-5819. 

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