AC Expressway call boxes: Off the hook

Emergency call boxes are in trouble.

The South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) has announced it will begin removing the devices from the Atlantic City Expressway today.

Installed in 1967 and upgraded in the 1980s, the call box system is obsolete, authority officials say.

The ubiquity of cell phones may be the driving force behind the demise of a piece of roadside safety infrastructure once touted as state-of-the-art.

But the technology itself sounds like something from era of party lines and "number, please."

From the SJTA website:

"The current roadside call box is powered in the field by the user who pulls down a lever then pushes a button labeled "Police" or "Service" that activates an electric motor to produce a radio transmission. When activated, the call box emits a radio frequency "squawk" code, which is received as an alarm at the Dispatch Center located in the State Police building at the Farley Service Plaza.

"An acknowledgment code is then sent back to the roadside call box and heard by the user as an audible "beep". It may not be understood by the end user that this "beep" is an acknowledgement of alarm receipt. There is no voice communication..."

The boxes also are being removed from highways in California and elsewhere.

But the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports the Pennsylvania Turnpike has no plans to scrap its system.