Trucking of risky material resuming

US lifts Boston’s restrictions on hazardous loads

‘I’m very disappointed,’ said Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who represents the North End on the City Council. ‘I’m very disappointed,’ said Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who represents the North End on the City Council.
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / May 13, 2010

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Starting Monday, trucks carrying hazardous materials will once again be allowed to rumble along crowded Boston streets at all hours, after federal officials voided the city’s four-year ban this week and chastised state and local officials for failing to justify the restrictions as required by federal law.

The decision has outraged city officials, who contend it will jeopardize public safety by putting hazardous and flammable materials such as gasoline, munitions, and propane in closer proximity to residents and drivers inching along congested streets during rush hour.

“It’s an enormous safety concern,’’ said Thomas J. Tinlin, Boston’s transportation commissioner, who has been warning police officers and firefighters to prepare for as many as 200 trucks a day on downtown streets. “It flies in the face of all we have been hearing from our federal government about, ‘Be alert, be ready, and be smart.’ ’’

Trucking industry officials say the decision will not put the public at risk, pointing out that the ban was lifted only because the city failed, after four years, to formally make its case for the restrictions.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued the decision this week after warning the city in November that it had six months to complete a safety analysis of the ban or see it voided. The city failed to meet that deadline, and federal officials rejected its request for a nine-month extension.

“We have the same interest in providing for the proper safety of the passage of hazardous materials,’’ said Anne Lynch, executive director of the Massachusetts Motor Transportation Association. “We just want to make sure the process for analyzing the safest route is taken.’’

The decision means that trucks carrying hazardous materials to other communities will no longer be banned from traveling through the city between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. In addition, it will change the route they must take through Boston.

Currently, trucks carrying hazardous materials must take the Charlestown Bridge, Cross Street, and the Greenway to Interstate 93. Starting next week, the route will shift, forcing them onto Commercial Street in the North End. That has angered North End residents and elected officials.

“I’m very disappointed,’’ said Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who represents the North End. “There’s a lot of people on Commercial Street, and there’s a lot of kids and parks and pools and playgrounds in that area.’’

City officials also argue that trucks are more likely to speed on Commercial Street because it has fewer traffic lights than Cross Street. North End residents say the trucks will be yet another cause for worry, compounding the threat from liquefied natural gas tankers entering Boston Harbor.

“No one cares for the benefit of our health here,’’ said Janet Gilardi, 65, a lifelong North End resident who lives about two blocks from Commercial Street. “They just shove things down our throats.’’

Richard Moskowitz, vice president of the American Trucking Association, said the decision could increase public safety because the restriction currently forces trucks leaving the region’s main fuel depot in Everett to travel north to interstates to reach points south of Boston, extending a trip to Milton, for example, roughly sixfold to 42 miles.

“By taking the most direct route, you’re reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled and reducing the likelihood a truck will be involved in an incident,’’ he said.

He said that giving truckers the ability to cut through Boston during the daytime will also reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

The city’s trucking restrictions date to 2006, when the city instituted the rules under pressure from House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, a Commercial Street resident, and his North End neighbors.

Then, in November, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ruled that the restrictions were illegal because city officials had not completed the required analysis of their impact on public safety and surrounding communities.

The federal government gave the city six months to perform the analysis, an unprecedented grace period, according to federal officials. In March, however, the city requested more time to complete its study.

Anne S. Ferro, chief of the Motor Carrier Safety Administration, rejected the city’s request, telling city and state officials in a letter Monday that they had “failed to show that they have taken significant measures to achieve compliance with the federal standards.’’

Tinlin said city officials had hired a consulting firm, which performed a “preliminary risk assessment’’ of the city’s truck rules and had hired a second firm to “make it bulletproof.’’

Tinlin said the city will continue its analysis in hope of eventually justifying its restrictions to the federal government.

“We’re hoping [the federal government] will realize they’re being completely unreasonable with arbitrary timelines and look at the good work that has gone into this,’’ Tinlin said.

Michael Levenson can be reached at

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