Beginning May 17, residents should be able to reach out and touch people - faster.

On that date, the city's US WEST Communications office is changing to an electronic digital switching system that will replace an almost 40-year-old mechanical switching system.According to US WEST official Steve Linton, the change will cost $1.2 million and bring the latest telephone technology to the city's approximately 3,300 local lines.

Linton, the area manager for public policy, said basic telephone rates won't change. In fact, the only negative change may be the fact that customers will have to dial all seven numbers to reach a local listing (only the last four had been required to dial some local numbers), he said.

On the plus side, customers should see a noticeable difference in connection times, which should be much faster, and will have a variety of new options to choose from in their service - including call waiting, call forwarding, speed dialing and three-way conference calling.

Additionally, Centron features such as intercom offerings will be added to both business and residential customers who want them, Linton said.

On the new system, sometimes the ringing sound the caller hears may not be in sync with the ringing sound on the phone from which the call is being made, Linton said.

"It's actually possible for someone to answer a call before the caller hears anything ring."

Work is currently under way in the Lehi office, as well as the American Fork US WEST office, which will share equipment with the Lehi facilities - including remote call-processing equipment. That work should continue up until the switch-over date, including test-calling lines to ensure the equipment's precision. Northern Telecom, which manufactures the switching system, will install most of the equipment.

Employees in the Lehi office are currently receiving in-depth training to be able to use the more technologically advanced equipment, though US WEST is not anticipating hiring any new workers, Linton said.

The equipment changeover has been in the works since last year, he said. "We have lists of cities needing upgrades and the time has come for Lehi. We're pleased that the change could be moved up to May."

Also seemingly pleased are city officials, who call the system upgrade exciting.

"It's amazing that we've had the old mechanical equipment this long in this jet age," Mayor Guy Cash said. "We're very excited to have these added capabilities."