Rhode Island to remove call boxes on highways

| 12/6/2004

Deemed an unnecessary expense, the Rhode Island highway department is doing away with its call box system.

The department said dropping the system, in operation since 1979, will save the state about $1 million needed for upgrades, plus about $750,000 a year to maintain it. The removal will also avoid encouraging drivers from walking along the highway, according to the department.

“There are enough redundant features built into the interstate system to keep motorists in need of assistance safe in an emergency,” James Capaldi, RIDOT director, said in a statement. “Walking down Route 95 to find a call box is not one of them. Passing motorists can help by being Good Samaritans and call in motorists in distress.”

Raymond LaBelle, executive director of the state’s Emergency 9-1-1 telephone system, said the public can use cell phones to dial 9-1-1 for highway-related emergencies.

The state police can be reached by dialing *S-P, the same as *7-7.

There are 284 call boxes located on Interstates 95, 195, 295, the Jamestown Bridge and Route 138 from the Jamestown Bridge to the Newport Bridge toll plaza. The boxes connect callers directly to a RIDOT dispatcher.

But the department said the system is expensive to maintain and has been operating only “sporadically.” More than 50 boxes reportedly are out of service.

In the New England region, only Massachusetts still uses a call box system on its major highways, RIDOT said. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont do not have the systems. In Connecticut, call boxes are used on two bridges.

Rhode Island estimates that 520,000 people in the state have cell phones.