Local News

Work is about to begin on the Sumner Tunnel. Here’s what to know.

The tunnel is set to be closed to traffic May through September 2023.

Morning traffic rush hour into the tunnel. David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Nearly a century ago, the Sumner Tunnel was opened, and suddenly there was a connection to East Boston.

The tunnel also provides a way to and from Logan International Airport.

But just as Boston has changed considerably since the 1930s, and at least a couple of generations have passed, the tunnel is about to experience changes in the form of a restoration.

“At this point, we’re well beyond patches and repairs: the only way to keep the Sumner Tunnel in service is with a top-to-bottom restoration,” according to the project website. “With this work, we expect to keep the Sumner Tunnel in service for another century or more.”


Here’s what to know about the project:

Phase 1

Split into three phases, the first phase is set to kick off on June 10 and will extend until Spring 2023. 

During that time, the tunnel will be closed for 36 weekends. The closures are planned to begin Fridays at 11 p.m. Traffic will resume in the tunnel at 5 a.m. Mondays, according to a presentation made during a MassDOT public meeting.

While the closures occur, work on the tunnel will be around the clock until it reopens. There will be noise and the area may vibrate as the ceiling of the tunnel is removed. Workers will make sure dust will be monitored.

A variety of upgrades are planned for Phase 1. These include installing new LED lights, upgrading fire alarms, installing a new fire protection system, and installing new electric systems. Workers will also start to repair the tunnel walls and put in fireproof panels. Work will also begin on the entrances to the tunnel.

Full closure during Phase 2

The tunnel is planned to be closed completely during Phase 2 for four months, May through September 2023.

During this time, workers will remove the current tunnel ceiling and overhead arch, and replace them both. Teams will finish installing new cables and conduits, finish working on the tunnel’s entrances, repair the walls of the tunnel and install fireproof painted panels, pave the roadway, finish upgrading the fire systems, and take down the ornamental fixtures for portal restoration, according to the presentation.


DOT predicts this is when the project will cause the most noise and vibration, the presentation said.

Phase 3 and weekend closures

During the final phase, weekend closures in fall to winter 2023 will allow for a variety of activities including replacement of ornamental fixtures, installing fireproof panels and new signage, and testing the tunnel systems.

Why the tunnel is being restored

The tunnel is being restored for a variety of reasons, including corrosion and exposed rebar on the ceiling. The tunnel pavement is also in need of work, according to MassDOT. Various systems, including ventilation, security, drainage, and fire suppression also need to be upgraded.

Inside the tunnel, there’s concrete that is chipped or crumbling, reinforcements that are rusted, cracked wall panels, and light fixtures that don’t work, the department said.

Tunnel history

The Sumner Tunnel was built in the 1930s, according to MassDOT. It’s the state’s first traffic tunnel, and one of the oldest in the country.

“Running over a mile under the Boston Harbor, the Sumner remains an essential roadway for residents and commuters,” according to MassDOT. “It links East Boston with the rest of the city and provides direct access from Logan Airport – in a real sense, opening the world to Boston.”


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