Analysis: More Crashes in O'Neill Tunnel

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 24, 2007; 1:42 AM

BOSTON -- Massachusetts officials say they are evaluating accident data submitted by a citizen activist that shows significantly more crashes occurred in the newly constructed Tip O'Neill Tunnel than in older tunnels nearby.

There were 614 vehicle crashes in the O'Neill tunnel during a two-year period ending in February, compared to 28 crashes in the aging Callahan and Sumner tunnels, combined, during the same period, according to activist Vincent Zarrilli.

He obtained the accident data through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared his findings with The Associated Press.

The O'Neill tunnel, part of Interstate 93, is about 1.5 miles long, the older tunnels, which link downtown to Logan airport, are about a mile long.

The MTA has begun an evaluation of the accident data and the geometry of the highway and tunnel, authority chief of staff Stephen Collins wrote in a July 20 letter to Zarrilli.

"This engineering evaluation includes an assessment of the pavement condition, horizontal and vertical curvature, sight distances, signage, lighting, and all engineering aspects of the roadway and tunnel," Collins wrote.

The letter thanks Zarrilli for his "diligence and concern for public safety."

"I can assure you that public safety is of utmost concern to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and that safety issues identified in the engineering analysis will be appropriately addressed by the Authority," he wrote.

Authority spokesman John Lamontagne said the Turnpike Authority "feels confident that the Tip O'Neill tunnel is a safe part of the highway. We're constantly evaluating the tunnel to determine if there are ways we can enhance driver safety." He declined further comment.

The tunnel, named for late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr., carries traffic along Interstate 93, to and from the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge.

Zarrilli, a longtime civic activist who once proposed an alternative project to the city's Big Dig project, which included construction of the O'Neill tunnel, said he wants to see the O'Neill tunnel speed limit reduced from 45 mph to 30 mph.

"They can erect signs before one enters the tunnel saying speed strictly enforced by video monitoring," he said in phone interview Monday. "If that signage were to take place the number of accidents per month would be reduced."

Zarrilli said he's pleased that state officials are taking his concerns seriously.

"I'll stay right on top of it," he said, referring to his frequent requests for public documents on accident data. "The public does deserve to know."

© 2007 The Associated Press