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Boston-bound commuters deal with traffic tie-ups and train transfers

(The Associated Press circulated the following article by Jay Lindsay on July 26.)

BOSTON -- Commuters heard months of dire warnings about nightmarish traffic and transit hassles during this week's Democratic National Convention. Now it becomes a reality.

For those who live north of the city and couldn't, or wouldn't, take a vacation this week, this gritty city on Boston's North Shore is the end of the line. The rail line, that is.

The Secret Service ordered the North Station rail terminal closed all week because it lies directly beneath the FleetCenter, where the convention is being staged. Trains from points north stop at Lynn's Central Square, where passengers board shuttle buses bound for downtown Boston.

Civic leaders tried to make the best of the situation by offering commuters food and entertainment. There were plenty of transit police officers on hand to guide travelers from the train platform across the square to the waiting buses.

Saxophonist Tom Bruhl played near vendors offering coffee, muffins and newspapers.

"I'm here to pacify more than anything," said Bruhl, 46, of Raynham, as a reggae band set up nearby.

City officials, eager to show commuters a softer, friendlier side of Lynn, hired the musicians and gave away free stress balls bearing the slogan "I survived the 2004 convention thanks to Lynn, MA."

Those who chose to take Interstate 93 into the city were in for a tougher ride. The reduction of the busy southbound highway from four to three lanes made for slow going. Traffic backed up for five miles behind the bottleneck. State police had several trucks pulled over to the side of the road, further complicating the situation.

As bad as it was Monday morning, it was only a glimpse of what's in store for the evening commute, when officials plan close the highway altogether, along with several other major arteries, forcing most motorists onto secondary roads.

I-93 will be closed around 4 p.m., from Medford to just south of downtown Boston, Monday through Thursday. It will reopen after midnight, when the nightly convention festivities are over. The Secret Service had ordered it closed because the highway runs alongside the FleetCenter.

North Station is closed all week, forcing the estimated 24,000 commuters who use it daily to take shuttle buses from outlying stations. The decision to close the rail terminal was made a few weeks after terrorists bombed trains in Spain, killed nearly 200.

Riders on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's trains and subways will also be subject to random bag searches.

North Shore commuters largely shrugged off the inconvenience.

Chris Reade, 46, a computer technician from Beverly, would have stayed home had it not been for surgery that swallowed up his vacation time. He was headed to work two hours early on Monday in order to cover for colleagues who were telecommuting from home.

"It's only going to be for four days," he said. "It's going to be a pain ... and then it's going to be gone."

Linda Morin, 54, a systems programmer from Salem headed for her job in Quincy, was only making the trip once; she intended to stay at a friend's house in Plymouth for the rest of the week.

She decided not to go on vacation. "I refuse to let the Democrats dictate my vacation time," she said.

The Sumner Tunnel and Tobin Bridge will also be closed each night of the convention, along with eastbound Storrow Drive, which runs alongside the Charles River. Some secondary roads will have traffic restrictions or lane closures, including sections of Route 1 north of Boston, where travel will be reduced to one lane.

Motorists were being urged to stay away, or to use the highways that circle the city.

The Boston gathering is the first national nominating convention held since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Monday, July 26, 2004

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