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Starts & Stops

State’s new campaign aims to save lives in tunnels

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff file 2004

A state information campaign encourages motorists to remain in their disabled cars in tunnels.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, David Dang did what so many drivers do after a fender-bender. He pulled to the side of the road, got out to inspect the damage, and exchanged information with the other motorist.

But that minor accident happened amid fast-moving traffic on Interstate 93 in the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Tunnel, with a narrow shoulder and no breakdown lane. As Dang, 75, walked back to his car, he was struck and killed by a passing SUV.

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The Somerville man’s death was believed to be the first under such circumstances in the Central Artery tunnel, and state officials are trying to make it the last. On Thursday, they introduced a “Save Your Life . . . Not Your Car!’’ campaign, encouraging motorists to stay put after highway-tunnel accidents.

Digital billboards on I-93 in Medford and Stoneham have been programmed to advise motorists in tunnel accidents to pull to the side of the road if they can, activate their flashers, call 911, stay in the vehicle if possible, and wait for emergency assistance. From Thursday to today, toll takers were expected to hand out 45,000 brochures at Boston-area tollbooths. Motorists who use Fast Lane to pay tolls electronically are expected to receive e-mails this week.

The Big Dig tunnels and older Callahan and Sumner tunnels are equipped with traffic cameras monitored at the state’s Highway Operations Center in South Boston. Even without calling 911, motorists in tunnel accidents should see State Police arriving within minutes to assist them.

“This initiative today is born out of a tragedy,’’ Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey said, flanked at the operations center by Highway Administrator Frank DePaola and State Police Major Terry Hanson, before a bank of video screens showing tunnel activity. “If you break down in one of our tunnels, we will see you; we know you are there. Wait for help, and we will come and assist you as quickly as possible.’’

In the event of a fire, drivers should exit their vehicles, officials said.

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For the curious, the state counts 318 tunnel cameras: 150 in the O’Neill and Interstate 90 connector tunnels, 59 in the Sumner and Callahan, 27 in the I-90 Prudential tunnel, 58 in the Ted Williams Tunnel, and 24 in the Central Artery North Area tunnel under Charlestown’s City Square.

Even a mild winter takes its toll

Last week’s winter storm may have been a dud - threatening several inches of snow in and around Boston, but at first bringing mostly rain - but it still sapped about $5 million from the state’s highway snow and ice budget. That’s because of the labor and materials required to treat and clear slick roads even when there’s nothing to shovel at home.

This is bad news for the MBTA, of course, which is trying to close a $161 million deficit for the coming year and has proposed steep fare increases and dramatic service cuts as a result. Governor Deval Patrick has said he will transfer unused highway snow money to the T to help plug the gap, but it won’t be much.

As of Friday, the state had $8.4 million remaining in that account, having started the winter with $41 million. (The true total in the budget for snow and ice removal was $50 million, but $9 million comes from toll revenue and cannot be redirected from the Massachusetts Turnpike and other toll roads.)

“You might be saying, ‘We’ve had a very mild winter, why are you depleted?’ ’’ Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey said. “But typically what happens is our snow and ice account is woefully under-budgeted. For example, last year we spent over $100 million, [and] in a typical winter we spend about $80 million. So even if we spent $40 million [or less] it would really be a record in terms of under-spending.’’

In January, MBTA riders piled on

January was another banner ridership month for the T, a bittersweet fact lost on neither riders nor officials as they wrestle with major fare increases and service cuts.

In January - normally a quiet month, with many students away - the T recorded an average of nearly 1.3 million one-way passenger trips each weekday, according to numbers released last week. That is believed to be a modern record for the 48-year-old MBTA, much like the T’s nearly 390 million total trips in 2011, according to spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

Ridership was higher in 1946 on the Boston Elevated Railway, before the postwar era of highway construction and suburban flight, and when an influx of returning military personnel and lingering wartime gas and tire rationing pushed ridership to 433 million, according to transit historian Bradley H. Clarke of the Boston Street Railway Association.

Ridership in January 2012 was 10.2 percent higher than the same month a year earlier. That marked the 12th consecutive month in which the T posted year-over-year increases, reflecting the state’s continued job growth and higher fuel prices, among other factors.

In comments, T service cuts a big concern

All those comments coming into the T about the fare and service changes are being logged.

Through early last week, the MBTA had received 4,800 messages at fareproposal@mbta.com, 3,200 of which had been cataloged.

Here are some findings, according to the T (total percentages exceed 100, because some offered multiple comments in one e-mail):

- 49 percent of comments came from bus customers.

- 80 percent opposed service cuts first; 27 percent opposed fare increases.

- 61 percent of e-mails called for preserving bus service, 21 percent called for maintaining commuter rail, and 21 percent sought to save ferries.

- 26 percent warned that the changes would cause more people to drive.

Seven people - not percent, that’s seven of 3,200 - wrote to say the T should make all the threatened service cuts; 381 said they should increase fares as proposed.

The T, as of early last week, had also received 70 letters from organizations and 57 from elected officials, plus 17 petitions containing thousands of signatures.

One petition to preserve late-night and weekend commuter rail service contained 15,000 names, and 5,000 people signed a petition opposing ferry cuts.

Still plenty of parking at the Anderson lot in Woburn

In late 2006, the MBTA added four round-trip trains on the commuter rail’s Lowell Line that run between North Station and Woburn’s Anderson Regional Transportation Center, without going all the way to Lowell.

But even with 30 inbound weekday trains now leaving from Anderson, the highway-side station still has ample parking in its 1,541-space lot.

To lure more MBTA customers, the state tomorrow will add an electronic message board on Interstate 93 southbound pointing motorists to Anderson and letting them know when the next train leaves. It will be placed sufficiently north of exit 37C so that those in traffic will be able to exit comfortably for Anderson, said Cyndi Roy, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.

Grabauskas lands in Hawaii, but it’s not for everyone

Remember Dan Grabauskas? The Republican appointee cultivated a “Mr. Fix-It’’ image for reducing wait times and modernizing the Registry of Motor Vehicles before a more tumultuous tenure as head of the MBTA that ended with Governor Deval Patrick’s administration forcing him out in 2009.

All the headlines from that political storm - which ended with the state buying out the last nine months of Grabauskas’s contract for $327,000 - were being dissected last week in Hawaii, after Grabauskas was tapped to run the $5 billion elevated rapid-transit line coming to Honolulu.

The project, years in the making, received construction clearance from the feds last year and is expected to be completed by 2019. But it is not without controversy - what rail project isn’t, in this era? - and has been called a boondoggle by critics, including a former Hawaii governor now running for mayor on an anti-rail platform. Meanwhile, some project fans hoped the top job would go to the acting chief.

But the board of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation agreed with the head-hunting firm that picked Grabauskas first among more than a dozen finalists, citing his ability to sell the project to the public, navigate remaining hurdles, and manage construction.

Though the line is projected to carry fewer than 10 percent of the T’s daily passengers, Grabauskas’s pay compares favorably with his old salary. His three-year package is worth nearly $1 million, including housing and transportation benefits and potential performance bonuses.

Among those vouching for his leadership, Democratic state Senator Steven A. Baddour of Methuen wrote to the Hawaii transit agency calling Grabauskas “one of the most astute transportation officials I have ever had the opportunity to work with,’’ according to the Honolulu Civil Beat blog.

All this could leave you to ask: Does Richard A. Davey, Grabauskas’s successor, have the wrong job? Davey was paid $145,000 as MBTA GM, then given a $5,000 raise last year with his appointment as transportation secretary - a job that asks him to manage the state’s vast, deeply indebted transportation system while facing thousands of riders upset over the proposed MBTA fare increase. Davey demurred, of course, saying he didn’t own enough Hawaiian shirts.

“I saw ‘The Descendants,’ ’’ he added. “Hawaii seems like an unusual place. I don’t know if I’d fit in there.’’

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at emoskowitz@globe.com.

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