Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


September 20, 2012

Turnpike connection — Cell coverage must be enhanced

— Turnpike Manager Greg Barr says the West Virginia Parkways Authority is finally moving closer toward expanding cell phone coverage along the 88-mile toll road extending from Princeton to Charleston. His announcement is long overdue.

The fact that motorists and business owners across southern West Virginia have had to pay a hefty toll to travel to and from Charleston for years without adequate cell phone coverage — and several dead zones with no cell coverage — is very disappointing

Motorists who must pay to travel the toll road should be assured a strong cell phone signal in the event of an emergency or vehicle break down. Instead, they are greeted with multiple curves where cell signals are abruptly lost along the mountainous terrain.

Barr tells the Register-Herald in Beckley that two towers are in the works, one at the Morton travel center, the other at the Chelyan toll plaza, and that four or five others could be possible. Barr says Verizon has been given a copy of the proposed lease and final approval could come at the West Virginia Parkways Authority’s board meeting in October. The lease has already been approved by the real estate division of the Department of Administration, along with the Division of Highways and the parkways authority.

The lease would allow for as many as three other cell phone firms to share the towers, and each would pay Verizon a rental fee, of which 25 percent would go to the parkways authority. Verizon would have the option of choosing the other three, with parkways approval, according to Barr.

“We have the right to review and give consent before they can allow another company to put equipment up there,” Barr said. “Obviously, we want to see as many different cell phone companies as possible.”

As currently proposed, one tower would be constructed at Barrier C near a structure on the side of the road behind a guardrail. A second tower would be developed at the Morton travel plaza, about midway between Beckley and Charleston. While not official at the moment, Barr says Verizon is considering four or five other locations to erect the 195-foot towers to enhance cellular coverage. But until that occurs, he says the existing cell phone coverage should still improve with just the two initial towers.

We would certainly hope so.

Motorists shouldn’t be expected to go another year or even month without adequate cell coverage along the 88-mile toll road.

While we realize that motorists should certainly obey the law, and not be talking or worse yet texting on a cell phone while driving, it is still imperative for motorists to have access to a strong cell phone signal so they can call for help if their vehicle breaks down, or if they experience an emergency while traveling on the toll roads.

Efforts to build the additional cell towers along the turnpike should be expedited. We need enhanced coverage now.


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