Sunday, June 23, 2024

Williamsburg considering how to boost cellular infrastructure and improve bus stops

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WILLIAMSBURG — A study has concluded that there is not high-quality cell-service coverage in parts of Williamsburg, and city officials are working on solutions.

At Monday’s City Council work session, Chief Information Officer Mark Barham presented the results of a cellular service study. The survey showed that “good” coverage is only found in small pockets of land scattered across the city.

The study focused on service from T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T. It was carried out by Crown Castle, which had already performed significant portions of the needed work for Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary.

Barham said the city hopes to use the data collected to create an internet application “where anybody can go in and punch in an address on that, and you’ll get access to the raw data and be able to generally make a pretty decent assumption of which carrier would work best at your house.” He said he hopes that program will be up by mid-July.

The city will now consider next steps, which could include partnering with Crown Castle to improve cellular infrastructure.

“We’re going to meet with the carriers, discuss this with them, what their path is moving forward,” Barham said. “I’ve already met with T-Mobile … they’re not too thrilled with the map.”

City Manager Andrew Trivette noted during the presentation that the city is hamstrung in efforts to improve quality coverage.

“The city really has no ability to fix this problem,” Trivette said. “Our ability to enter into this effort is limited by state statute as far as what we can do as a provider of such services. All we can really do is try to make it more convenient and less expensive for the carriers who are responsible for the service to address the concerns.”

Barham mentioned that the pandemic derailed some efforts by Verizon to improve coverage in the area due to increased internet capacity needs associated with the increased number of people working from home during that time. He said they are getting back on track.

“I do think based on my conversations with Verizon and some of the plans that I have seen, you’re going to see a pretty decent improvement in Verizon within the next year,” he said.

Also at Monday’s work session, City Council heard an update about adding benches, shelters and trash receptacles to 70% of bus stops in the city. Director of Planning and Codes Compliance Tevya Griffin said the city had inventoried its stops and the amenities at each.

She said there were 72 bus stops in the city, with 10 on William & Mary’s campus and six in Colonial Williamsburg. Of the 56 stops located in the city’s right of way, 39 need to be improved.

Of the 56 stops the city focused on, 14 stops had full amenities, five had a bench and a trash receptacle, five had just trash receptacles and 32 had no amenities.

Griffin said $275,000 had been approved in the 2025 fiscal year budget for the project, with the same amount projected for each year after until 2029, totaling $1.375 million.

To decide which stops would take priority, the city considered the ridership, amenities, proximity to a crosswalk, presence of a sidewalk and the solar exposure of each stop.

Mayor Douglas Pons expressed support for the project, though he said the cost caught him off guard.

“I think this council sees it as a priority to provide shelter at bus stops,” he said. “I’ve seen people standing in the rain and snow… It’s just not the quality of life that I think we aspire (to) for those that ride public transportation.”

Sam Schaffer, samuel.schaffer@virginiamedia.com

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