SCHROON LAKE At a rest area on the Northway with a perfect view of Schroon Lake, off the lanes heading south, the talk last Friday was all about cell phones.
But it wasnt happening on cell phones, because there is no cell signal along that stretch of highway, or anywhere along a lonesome 46-mile stretch, from exits 27 to 34, that in wintertime may be one of the most dangerous stretches of road in New York State.
On Friday, state Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury), Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro), Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru), and AAA Northway CEO Jim Phelps held a press conference to call for six Cells on Wheels (COWs) mobile antennas to be placed at rest areas along I-87 when the cold weather starts rolling in. The goal is to give motorists with incapacitated vehicles or, worse, those who have been in accidents or who have witnessed accidents the use of their cell phones to call for help.
The lack of any communications ability has long been a concern along this corridor, but its true danger was grimly illustrated last year after two people died as a result of not being able to contact help, one after an accident, the other after a vehicle breakdown.
Though Verizon Wireless, which has a contract for the construction of 11 permanent cell towers along the roadway, would be placing the COWs (the cost of which approximately $1 million are already part of this years budget), the company has yet to file any of the necessary paperwork with the Adirondack Park Agency.
Sayward noted, Snow will soon be in the air, and the traveling public will again face a long cold winter without cell service if something isnt done immediately.
Little added that, Now is the time to begin work on a backup plan. It is a complicated, time-consuming process. But given the uncertainty of new [permanent] towers being permitted, built and operational, a backup plan is needed. Placing COWs at several Northway rest areas would improve cell coverage and enhance public safety on this highway. This is an option that needs to be considered now, not in November or December.
But Ross Whaley, the outgoing chairperson of the APA, commented in an interview on North Country Public Radio that a request to place the mobile devices hasnt reached his organization yet, and even if the approval process were to proceed without a hitch, it would typically take 60 to 90 days to go through to completion.
In the meantime, Little, Sayward, and Duprey have addressed the situation with Gov. Eliot Spitzer, and are awaiting a response. With any luck, and with the hope that Gov. Spitzers reaction matches that of the nearly 5,000 signers of an AAA petition that calls for an immediate solution to the problem, there will be communication with the help of high-tech COWs this winter along the Northway.