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Roadside call boxes possible

by Greg Risling

The push to place call boxes along county roads has gained more attention in El Dorado County.

Consultants from the Capitol Valley Regional Service Authority for Freeways and Expressways informed El Dorado County Transportation Commission members Thursday about a regional plan to install roadside phones. Five Northern California counties – Sacramento, San Joaquin, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba – fund the program by charging an extra dollar on residents’ vehicle registrations.

EDCTC Executive Director Matt Boyer said he will find out on April 16 whether the county can also jump on board.

“The commission has directed me to ask the SAFE board if we can still be part of the program,” Boyer said. “It will be cheaper to be a part of a multi-agency effort than going on our own if this issue is approved locally.”

Gaining consensus may prove difficult. The county’s supervisors have visited the issue several times but never took any formal action because they needed an endorsement from both city councils in South Lake Tahoe and Placerville. The word from the Tahoe council in February 1995 was the project would be more of a burden than a benefit. No vote was ever taken, according to city records.

Installing call boxes on U.S. Highway 50 would pose some problems. At higher elevations, stranded motorists may not be able to use the emergency phones because they would be buried underneath snow berms. The standard half-mile distance between the call boxes wouldn’t apply in El Dorado County because there aren’t enough turnouts or shoulders on the Sierra road.

But call boxes are effective in other parts of California, according to SAFE Senior Planner David Young. Overseeing the five-county entity, Young estimates that 4,000 to 5,000 calls are received by the California Highway Patrol each month from the jurisdictions. There are roughly 17,000 emergency phones across California.

“I think the program is excellent and I’d like to see a statewide system,” Young said. “It will be up to the individual counties in the meantime to decide whether call boxes are needed in their area.”

Boyer said that the low priority given by CHP dispatch to call box requests may change, thanks to a pilot program in San Diego County. Currently, a dispatcher takes all of the roadside calls but in dire emergencies passes them on to a 911 operator.

“Approximately 20 percent of emergency phone calls by motorists are 911 calls,” Boyer said. “I believe in the concept of the call box program. It would be beneficial to a population that mostly visits the area and our residents as well.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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