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Starts & Stops

Some drivers fear cellphone-tunnel mix

Cheyenne Johnson, 12, a pupil at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, looked out over the field at Fenway Park before a tour last month. For several days last week, the MBTA's website did not include Fenway Park in its list of key locations. Cheyenne Johnson, 12, a pupil at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, looked out over the field at Fenway Park before a tour last month. For several days last week, the MBTA's website did not include Fenway Park in its list of key locations. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Noah Bierman
May 25, 2008

For years, the Globe has chronicled the long delays and hiccups that have come as government officials and telecommunications companies struggle to bring cellphone service to the $15 billion Big Dig tunnels.

It's a prime example of a seemingly simple project, commonplace in less expensive tunnels, that has been full of inexplicable delays in Boston's luxury tunnels. But many readers have zeroed in on another aspect of the articles:

"So there's a couple places in the city where people can actually concentrate on their driving?" asked Gene Beaudoin, a developer from Connecticut, who captured the feelings of many drivers.

Other readers sense that bringing cell service to the dark, winding tunnels will make chatty drivers even more hazardous than they usually are. And many have taken me to task for relegating this portion of the debate to the bottom of news stories.

Bryan Reimer, a research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Age Lab who studies driver distractions, said he does not know of any studies that specifically target the combination of driving, cellphones, and tunnels. But he has a hunch they're a bad mix.

The driver's mental "workload" is higher in a dark, constrained tunnel, he said. And drivers are further taxed when having phone conversations while driving, especially those involving complex topics.

"Something's got to give," he said.

Reimer, though, does not support a ban on phones in the car, or the tunnels.

It can be equally hazardous to be without a phone when there's an emergency. Instead, he favors educating drivers to temper their conversations: Save the emotional or complicated topics for nondriving moments.

For now, all cellphone discussions are legal in Massachusetts. A bill that would require drivers to use a hands-free device and ban text-messaging passed the House but is stalled in the Senate.

Park benched
Are there secret Yankee fans on the MBTA's staff or hacking into their computers?

For several days last week, perhaps longer, the T's website - the part that helps riders figure out bus and subway routes - did not include Fenway Park in its list of landmarks and key locations.

The same list includes not only indelible sites like Faneuil Hall and Bunker Hill, but also more fleeting attractions ranging from the Cheers bar to the Kmart in Saugus.

So how could Fenway not qualify as a landmark? The home of the curse? The home of the end of the curse! The house where Manny plays and Papelbon dances (unfortunately)?

It was all a mistake, explained Lydia Rivera, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Someone accidentally removed a section on the T's trip-finder called "Arts and Entertainment." The section also includes TD Banknorth Garden.

The T fixed the problem Thursday, after a call from the Globe. Rivera said she did not know how the mistake happened.

Not a good week for a breakdown, as baseball season kicks into high gear with a no-hitter and grand slams and the Celtics continuing their playoff run. Public transportation is key to catching it all, given driving and parking nightmares around the sports venues.

With hope, only Pistons and Royals fans got lost on their way to the games.

T budget may not last
The MBTA's spending plan for 2009-2010 is expected to get final approval this week. But the document may be stale before the wrapper comes off, as gas prices continue to rise and the T awaits word from an arbitrator on a contract with one of its biggest unions.

All this could mean that an agency that is "broke," in the words of Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager, could become more so as the year goes on.

"They just barely, by the skin of their teeth, got a balanced budget" for the coming budget year that begins July 1, said Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA's advisory board.

Regan's board is expected to give the spending plan - which depletes the rainy-day fund and pushes back debt payments to plug a $74 million gap - final approval Thursday. Regan predicts the T will need to find more money to pay this year's bills before the budget year ends in July 2009.

Transit advocates put out a fresh set of warnings last week.

Eric Bourassa, a transportation analyst with the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, and Lee Matsueda of the T riders union, are predicting drops in service or a fare increase unless the state bails the T out of its enormous debt.

Grabauskas has ruled out fare hikes and service reductions for 2009, but has been silent about changes in 2010.

Can't get there...

  • Two or three lanes of Interstate 93 north through downtown and Charlestown will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Friday.
  • The underpass from Storrow Drive eastbound to I-93 north and the Tobin Bridge will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • I-93 north Exit 26, to Storrow Drive,will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday through Friday.
  • The Sumner Tunnel onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • The Haymarket onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • I-93 north Exit 23, to Government Center, will be closed from 11:30 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m. Wednesday.
  • The Essex Street onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • The ramp at I-93 north Exit 20, to Interstate 90 east (the Massachusetts Turnpike), will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Access to Kneeland Street/South Station will remain open.
  • Two or three lanes of I-93 south approaching and through downtown will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Friday.
  • The Storrow Drive onramp to I-93 south will be closed from 11:30 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m. Wednesday. The Haymarket onramp to I-93 south and the Callahan Tunnel will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday through Friday.
  • I-93 south Exit 20A, South Station, and Exit 20B, to I-90 west and Albany Street, will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The Essex Street onramp to I-93 south will be closed from 11 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m. Wednesday.
  • One lane of I-90 east in the Ted Williams Tunnel will be closed from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • The I-90 east high-occupancy-vehicle tunnel to Logan International Airport will be closed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 9 p.m. Wednesday to 5 a.m. Thursday.
  • Two lanes of the I-90 tunnel to the Ted Williams Tunnel will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Friday
  • Access from Frontage Road and Albany Street to I-90 east and Logan Airport will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday.
  • Lanes on I-90 east near Exit 22 to the I-90/I-93 Interchange will be closed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday.
  • Lanes on I-90 east near Interchanges 18, 19, and 20 will be closed from 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • The onramp from Congress Street to I-93 in South Boston and I-90 west Exit 24, to I-93, will be closed from 11:30 p.m. Tuesday to 5 a.m. Thursday.
  • Lanes on I-90 east and I-90 west near the Sheraton in Newton will be closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • The Congress Street onramp to I-93 south and I-90 west will be closed from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • The Sumner Tunnel onramp to Storrow Drive will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday through Friday. Sumner Tunnel access to Haymarket will remain open.

    Please send complaints, comments, or story ideas to starts@globe.com. The column can be found at boston.com/starts. Globe Correspondent Sarah M. Gantz contributed to this report.

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