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Nevada to install call boxes on I-15

Phones will enable drivers stranded in desert to get help

By Omar Sofradzija
Las Vegas Review-Journal

The harsh desert southwest of Las Vegas isn't a place where you'd want your car to break down, but if it does you'll soon have an extra way to call for help.

Highway engineers are close to activating a call box network along Interstate 15 between St. Rose Parkway and the California state line that will provide an emergency link between stranded drivers and Nevada Highway Patrol dispatchers.

The network of 60 phones could be working as soon as next Monday or Tuesday, pending final testing, officials said.
It parallels a similar network that has existed for years along I-15 in California.

"If your car breaks down, you go to the box and notify the Highway Patrol if you need assistance," Nevada Department of Transportation spokesman Bob McKenzie said. "As soon as you activate it, you're right in the dispatch center."

The solar-powered cellular-type phones are connected to dispatchers when one of four buttons are pushed: one requesting emergency police or medical attention; another asking for mechanical help; a third reporting an empty gas tank or flat tire; and a fourth indicating the caller is hearing-impaired, McKenzie said.

Phones will be grouped in pairs, with one on each side of the highway. Those pairs will be spaced about one mile apart from each other, according to McKenzie.

"These call boxes have always worked well for California. It'll assist us and especially the motorist," said Highway Patrol trooper Angie Wolff. "Sometimes, they're stuck out in the desert for hours. This way, they know within a short walking distance they can get help."

Although the proliferation of cell phones has diminished the need for call boxes, authorities said the boxes are still considered a valuable backup.

"Some areas are dead areas where (most) cell phones don't work between (the) state line and the valley," Wolff said. "A lot of older people don't have cell phones."

Police will be notified electronically if a call box door is opened, and the boxes will automatically check in with a central computer every 24 hours to assure the phones are in working order.

Most of the call boxes have been installed. The boxes and related signs have been covered in plastic bags. That's the way the boxes and signs will stay until the phones are ready to go.

The impetus for the call box program was a 2001 Assembly bill that set aside $500,000 for the plan and called on the Transportation Department to place phones along I-15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The department historically had ignored the concept – citing higher priorities – and even testified against the bill.

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