The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 6, 2013

’Pike cell coverage improvements progressing

BECKLEY — No one is promising uninterrupted, wall-to-wall cell phone coverage along the 88 miles of the West Virginia Turnpike.

Yet, once all the wrinkles are ironed out between Verizon and AT&T, the Princeton-to-Charleston toll road no longer should be regarded as “The Twilight Zone” where calls swiftly fall into another dimension beyond that which is known to man.

For years now, commuters have complained about dropped calls, and some legislators have worried openly about the prospects of being stranded in a medical or crime emergency, unable to call for help.

Turnpike Manager Greg Barr told the Parkways Authority’s committees Thursday that AT&T is in talks with not only Verizon but the toll road as well for a ground lease on which to erect a structure to house its equipment.

“And it has to fit within the footprint of the Verizon lease that we have given them,” counsel A. David Abrams said. “That should be interesting.”

Since the arrangement is a joint one, Abrams said cooperation also must come from the Division of Highways.

“We won’t get any money out of it,” the attorney advised the authority.

“Under statute, all of it goes to the DOH fund, and that’s okay, because it won’t be much.”

In fact, about all the Turnpike is counting on at this stage is cell phone coverage on the north end.

“Which is pretty significant,” Abrams said.

Barr said the addition also should enhance the toll road’s message boards, along with new security cameras.

One hangup has been a misunderstanding of tax forms since Verizon has some connection to a main office in California, which, under corporate regulations, is the only place where firms are exempt from taxes.

“We’re just running into little blockades like that,” Barr said.

Barr said the initial tower would be beside the Morton Travel Plaza, and would eliminate many dead spots that frustrate motorists.

 “Whether it will cover every inch, we don’t know,” he said.

 “But it’s going to eliminate a lot of the dead spots.”

 In other business, the authority agreed to a couple of paving projects to enhance both the Princeton Welcome Center for $47,000, and the Bluestone Travel Plaza parking lot, a $1,288,900 project. Both contracts went to West Virginia Paving Co.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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