Boston looks at rerouting hazmat trucks

Aug. 31, 2011
The Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation is reviewing a plan to reroute trucks carrying hazardous materials — aimed primarily at tanker trucks hauling diesel fuel, gasoline and home heating fuel — around Boston on Interstate 128 and ban trucks from traveling into the city unless the origin or destination of the trip is in Boston, according to a report in the Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation is reviewing a plan to reroute trucks carrying hazardous materials — aimed primarily at tanker trucks hauling diesel fuel, gasoline and home heating fuel — around Boston on Interstate 128 and ban trucks from traveling into the city unless the origin or destination of the trip is in Boston, according to a report in the Boston Globe.

The rerouting proposal would dramatically lengthen the routes for trucks in the area.

“Take a route, and that route would be from Boston to Braintree, that is currently nine miles long and turn it into a 53- to 57-mile, one-way route,” Anne Lynch, executive director of the Massachusetts Motor Transportation Assn. said at a public meeting last week to discuss the proposal.

Cost of the extra miles isn’t the most important issue, Lynch said, but that lengthening truck travel will decrease safety for truck drivers and other motorists on the already-congested Interstate 128 that rings the Greater Boston area. She cited a recent study by the American Automobile Assn. that determined 80% of the accidents involving large trucks are caused by car drivers.

“So our concern is for trucker safety because when those accidents occur, the most likely person to die in that accident, as we’ve seen in recent accidents, is the truck driver,” Lynch said. “Even when caused by the Honda cutting him off, the truck driver is the person who dies.”

The city previously imposed a daytime ban on hazmat trucks in 2006 but was forced to lift the ban until a full study could be conducted. A study commissioned by the City of Boston and conducted by the Battelle Memorial Institute, an Ohio-based nonprofit research group found the risk to residents is four times greater when hazmat trucks are passing through downtown during the day and twice as dangerous at night. Thomas J. Tinlin, Boston’s transportation commissioner, said the results of Battelle’s study were “eye-opening.”

“In fact, the relative difference in risk to the public between the routes was so compelling, both day and night, that under the established federal through-routing criteria, the length of the deviation on the proposed alternative route did not have to be taken into account,” Tinlin said, reading from prepared testimony. “The proposed bypass route is that much safer.”

Tinlin said that Battelle’s study estimated the extra miles would take only an additional 22 minutes in each direction and cost less than 1 cent per gallon of product, numbers that trucking industry representatives disputed, according to the Globe report.

Opponents to the rerouting proposal also said Interstate 128 can’t bear the increased truck traffic.

“The capacity on this roadway is already at 130 percent, greatly impacting the flow of traffic on 128,” Monica Tibbits, executive director of the 128 Business Council, testified. “We are already dealing with congestion that brings daily commutes to a standstill. We cannot handle any more traffic in our already overtaxed roadway.”

However, those in opposition to the rerouting proposal were outnumbered by local residents who support the truck ban.

A tanker truck accident just last month that caused a firebomb that resulted in the death of the truck driver and forced the evacuation of Saugus was cited as an example of the dangers of hazmat trucks in the city.

“The affected area from the Saugus accident was approximately one square mile,” said Stephanie Hogue, president of the North End/Waterfront Neighborhood Residents’ Assn. “Superimpose that over the … slightly larger than one-quarter-mile North End, and you have an accident that has obliterated the homes of 11,000 people and who knows how many people burned or killed, given the tourist density in our neighborhood during the day and even at night.”

Two more hearings on the rerouting proposal are planned, one Aug. 30 in Waltham and the other Sept. 1 in Stoneham.

About the Author

Deborah Whistler

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