SANDAG to Take Over Call Box Program

A local agency in charge of maintaining a freeway call box service was dismantled Friday, funneling the program's extra money into San Diego's roadway projects.

Until Monday, the call boxes designed to be a lifeline for stranded motorists were maintained by the San Diego Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies.

But a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Friday dismantles the agency, which has collected a dollar surcharge from vehicle registration to fund the roadside program.

The $8 million left in the agency's reserve will be given to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), which will also oversee maintenance of the call boxes.

The surcharge brought in nearly $13 million since its creation about 30 years ago.

City of San Diego Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said the funds were not always used to support the program, rather for expenses associated with firefighter helicopters and tow trucks. That, combined with the popularity of cell phones has rendered the program mostly obsolete, she said.

"Call box usage has dropped 94 percent in the last few years and yet we continue to collect the fee," said Zapf, who also sat on the SAFE board. 

Still some say they don't mind paying for the call boxes, while others see the program as a safety net.

"We use money for other type of stuff like prisoners and tax money goes there; why shouldn't it go to help the people who actually you know are on the freeways," said San Diego resident Angel Murrillo.

San Diego resident Yolana Reyes said she would feel more comfortable having the call boxes in case of an emergency.

"Lets say my cellphone is not working that day or I just forget," she said, "I have a habit of forgetting my cellphone."

SANDAG will now use the money for other freeway programs in San Diego cities and the county such as electronic signage and freeway tow truck services for stranded motorists.

"Taxpayers will know that their money is spent on projects that the legislation was intended for and that they want," Zapf said.

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