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Kern County to remove all roadside call boxes

KBAK/KBFX photo, file

Hundreds of roadside call boxes around Kern County will soon be gone for good.

The Kern Council of Governments, a local agency that helps decide how transportation money is spent, made the decision this summer, citing declining usage and high costs.

Caltrans crews are working now to remove all of the boxes. Officials say they will be finished within a couple of weeks.

The county had nearly 600 at the height of their use in the 1990s.

A $1 fee attached to vehicle registration pays for the call boxes, Kern 511 and a program that puts prisoners and homeless people to work removing litter from the roads. But local decision-makers were advised this year that the revenue stream could no longer support all three programs.

The number of calls made from the roadside boxes are down roughly 87 percent from their peak usage in the 1990s, prior to widespread use of cellphones.

The 14 call boxes along Highway 178 were collectively used to make an average of 17 calls per month in 2016, according to the best available data. Kern COG officials noted that statistics are only estimates.

Ahron Hakimi, the executive director of Kern COG, said Thursday the phones cost roughly $1,000 per year each to operate.

That figure takes in the price of the phone service, paying the California Highway Patrol to pick up the calls, as well as servicing and replacing equipment that is frequently damaged by crashes, weather or vandals.

"(The council) certainly weighed the fact that a call box could potentially save somebody's life, but ultimately their decision was that it was costing too much money to maintain the call box systems, based on the number of calls we were getting," Hakimi said.

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