Cellphone Bill Seeks to Open Tunnel Connections

Turnpike Authority given a deadline By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff

Drivers who lose their cellphone signals navigating the Big Dig tunnels may soon get relief, after frustrated lawmakers sent a bill to Governor Mitt Romney's desk ordering the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to provide cellular phone service by the end of the year.

The measure, attached as an amendment to the $450 million economic stimulus bill, directs the Turnpike Authority to sign agreements for wireless service in the Interstate 93 tunnel and the Interstate 90 connector by Dec. 31 or the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy will take the matter out of the authority's hands.

The DTE would hold hearings and then set the maximum rate the Turnpike Authority can charge the wireless companies for using the tunnels, making future negotiations over fees unnecessary. The companies have been negotiating with the authority over rental fees for three years, infuriating many legislators who travel the tunnel daily.

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