(Barstow)- – First District San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt today announced that his effort to have call boxes installed on Fort Irwin Road between Interstate 15 near Barstow and the U.S. Army’s National Training Center and Fort Irwin is expected to come to fruition in the near future.
“These will be the first non-state-highway-system call boxes on a major County highway, and I am committed to seeing to it that this safety improvement is implemented as soon as possible,” said Supervisor Mitzelfelt. “That is my commitment to the Army and the thousands of its soldiers, employees, contractors, merchants and visitors who travel on Fort Irwin Road. We owe it to those who protect us to provide this reasonable measure of additional safety.”
Supervisor Mitzelfelt made the announcement at a meeting of the Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce during his final State of the County speech as Barstow’s supervisor. Effective Thursday, the City of Barstow becomes part of the Third District, represented by Supervisor Neil Derry, as a result of redistricting, which occurs every 10 years following the U.S. Census. The unincorporated communities around Barstow, including Yermo, Daggett, Hinkley and Newberry Springs, as well as Fort Irwin itself, will remain in the First District.
Fort Irwin Road stretches roughly 30 miles from Barstow to Fort Irwin and had been notorious for serious and often fatal vehicle crashes. Thanks in part to major safety improvements by the County in recent years funded largely by Defense Access highway funds secured by U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis, there has not been a fatal accident since 2009. However, the road still has spotty cell phone coverage and motorists who are involved in an accident or become stranded may not be able to contact help right away.
On September 1, 2010, then-Commander of the National Training Center and Fort Irwin Brigadier General Robert Abrams sent a letter to Supervisor Mitzelfelt with a specific proposal requesting call boxes on Fort Irwin Road.
San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), the countywide transportation authority and Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies, has been working with cellular telephone service providers to determine where there is sufficient coverage to install call boxes. Call boxes work through cellular networks and there are techniques for siting the call boxes to maximize whatever signal is available. That will allow motorists to call for assistance quickly if they do not have a cell phone, or have no signal, or if their phone is lost or damaged in an accident.
Supervisor Mitzelfelt has raised the issue of the future usefulness and need for call boxes during SANBAG committee meetings and has noted considerable support for the concept of prioritizing major local highways where the safety need is greatest to extend call box service. He has also encouraged exploring satellite telephone service and other technology. Call volumes for traditional call boxes on the State Highway System have been declining in recent years due to the prevalence of private cell phones.
The concept and a specific proposal to bring the new service to Fort Irwin Road must still be approved by the SANBAG Board of Directors, which includes representatives from all 24 cities in the county plus all five members of the County Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Mitzelfelt said he will request funding for the project this fiscal year and will likely not wait for next fiscal year’s budget process.