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Suspicious subway cell service, and continuous construction closures

Posted by Nichole Davis  May 31, 2013 02:17 AM

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So you're sitting on the Green Line, for example, at Copley Station. Your phone's not showing any sign of service, as you're used to in that stretch of tunnel. All of a sudden, you hear what you think is a ringtone. Really? Underground? Here?

Sure enough, the train starts going, and someone starts up a loud conversation. (Which, as any courteous T rider knows, is just downright rude, but that's for the Courtesy Critters to determine.) Wait a minute. There's cell phone service here? Why are they having a conversation and I'm stuck here, devoid of connectivity (as pleasant as that may be at the time)?

This question (in various forms) has been asked to me a few times as of late. I've experienced the same frustrations with my service, especially in the Red Line tunnels between JFK/UMass and South Station, and also through Cambridge. I emailed Joe Pesaturo of the MBTA to see what was up with the seemingly un-equal opportunity cell phone signal.

He informed me that only a handful of carriers offer close to full service through the entire MBTA underground. The notion of that, by the way, is pretty revolutionary, as Boston was one of the first cities nationwide to offer wireless service throughout the entire underground system. For carriers to make their service available through the T's 19 mile network of tunnels, they have to contract with the company who installed the hardware to make it all possible, InSite Wireless.

That company's been contracted out with the T since 2005 - that contract is set to last for 15 years all together.

T-Mobile and AT&T seem to be ahead of the game. According to Pesaturo, T-Mobile's got service up and running in every underground station and in the tunnels connecting them except for Shawmut station -- but that'll be remedied soon, as apparently they're installing the necessary systems there now to make that a go. AT&T's lacking coverage from Harvard to Alewife, but that's going to be put online next month.

Normally - at least above ground (not being a shill, just recounting personal experience) - Verizon offers some pretty expansive coverage. Not so much underground. InSite Wireless has a contract with Verizon for service only at a few stations - Government Center, Park Street, State Street, and Downtown Crossing. I can personally attest, as a Verizon customer, to having received limited service at Central and at spots on the Orange Line, but not much else. Pesaturo says they're continuing negotiations with Verizon about the prospects of expanding service.

So, what about the other carriers, like Sprint and MetroPCS? There hasn't been much word on the street about them lately, but as of last check, they don't currently have contracts with InSite Wireless. I'm going to try to look further into if they have plans to join the crowd.

Would you change your cell phone provider if it meant you had guaranteed service underground? Are you okay with being disconnected for a little while in the tunnels?
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If you're a Revere Beach Parkway driver, you may have noticed that traffic's been a little tougher lately as you cross over the Blue Line in Revere (near the State Road area). In fact, it's just been tough to get through, period - and here's why:

The DOT has started to change the traffic pattern through there so they can start some comprehensive work on the State Road bridge. That bridge has been slated for $5.3 million of repairs under the Accelerated Bridge Project (which we'll be talking about in the next couple weeks, by the by).

Traffic's being cut down to one lane in each direction and will be that way for the next few months - until the middle of September, to be exact. The lane restrictions have been put in place on the northbound side already, but won't be on the southbound side for a couple more days.
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Regular users of the Chelsea Street bridge, FYI: weeknights are going to be tough for you for the next month. The DOT has announced they're shutting down the bridge every weeknight between 8:00 PM and 5:00 AM until July 1st. They've been doing ongoing work on the bridge for some time now, but now they've reportedly got to shut things down on a more consistent basis to work on some safety modifications. You really can't argue with that.

Detours, courtesy of the DOT, so you can plan ahead:

All northbound vehicles destined for Chelsea will be directed east on Curtis Street; turn right onto ramp from Route 1A (McClellan Highway) south toward East Boston/Winthrop; turn left under the Route 1A viaduct; turn left onto Chaucer Street; bear left onto ramp to Route 1A north; bear right and enter Mahoney Circle/Bell Circle; stay to the right around circle and take fourth exit to Route 1A south; bear right onto Route 16 west; turn right onto ramp to Route 107 (Broadway) south; turn slight left onto Eastern Avenue; follow to end.

Southbound cars and light trucks destined for East Boston will be directed north on Eastern Avenue; turn slight right onto Broadway; turn right onto ramp to Route 16 (Revere Beach Parkway) east; turn right onto Route 145 (Revere Beach Parkway) east; turn right onto ramp to Route 1A (McClellan Highway) south; turn right onto Curtis Street; follow to end.

Southbound heavy trucks destined for East Boston will be directed north on Eastern Avenue; turn slight right onto Broadway; turn right onto ramp to Route 16 (Revere Beach Parkway) east; keep left and enter Mahoney Circle/Bell Circle; stay to the right around circle and take fourth exit to Route 1A south; turn right onto Curtis Street; follow to end.

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In case you missed it: Globe reporter Catherine Cloutier followed artist Laura Meilman for a while on her quest to capture the beauty of the T (yes, it's there) on paper. See, Laura's got a plan to go to every single subway and streetcar station on the system (that's 121, for all who are counting) and draw it from her vantage point. She's already made her way through the entire Red Line and much of the Green Line. The Jamaica Plain-based artist spends about a half hour at each station and puts out some fantastic work. Apparently she's considering putting it all together into a book when she's done. I'd personally love to see it. Check out the full story here.
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MBTA Matters

Lots happening out there on the rails over the next few weeks...

Let's start with the Red Line. They're doing more work out there on the Quincy/Braintree spur this weekend and next weekend. It's all part of the Columbia Junction project that's been going on for some time now. So, you can expect shuttle buses to be in place this Saturday and Sunday, as well as next Saturday and Sunday, between JFK/UMass and Quincy Center. They'll be running from the start of service Saturday to the end of service Sunday. Shuttle buses will make all stops.

We've already been dealing with diversions in place on the Blue Line as they do work on the Orient Heights project. You may have noticed you've been spending some more time on buses this week between Suffolk Downs and Wonderland. Crews are preparing the area around the State Road bridge for some significant work (as we talked about earlier in this entry) and they've been shutting down service around the area for safety purposes. You'll find that you're stuck on buses at least two more times in the near future: this Sunday and Monday from 9:00 PM until the end of service. Shuttle buses, of course, will make all stops.

Orange Line riders are very familiar with busing due to the ongoing work on the new Assembly Square station. I'm (not) happy to announce that more weekday diversions are on the way. Every Sunday through Thursday from June 4th to June 20th, August 4th to August 8th, and September 2nd to October 10th you'll find yourself stuck on a bus after 9:00 PM until the end of service. That is, just from Oak Grove to Sullivan Square. But still.

Oh, and by the way, the T's also performing some fixer-upper work on the Oak Grove platforms, so they say some slight delays could come along with that. They'll be doing work from time to time through September.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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