A program that rescues stranded motorists on major highways in Central Texas and aids in traffic congestion will expand to more than 180 miles on seven highways in the region by mid-2017.

The Highway Emergency Response Operator, or HERO, program responds to motorists on I-35 and US 183 who have a flat tire or ran out of gas and assists with removing vehicles that have been in an accident from travel lanes. The program is free for motorists.

“If you have someone whose [vehicle] has broken down or has a flat tire, the faster we get the vehicle off of the roadway, the quicker we can return traffic to normal flow,” said John Nevares, assistant director of transportation operations for the Austin District of the Texas Department of Transportation. “It has everything to do with keeping people moving on the road.”

HERO program The Texas Department of Transportation plans to expand the HERO program to a total of seven highways. Roads currently patrolled by HERO are in red. The new roads are in green. Future plans call for other roads, outlined in black.[/caption]

Nevares presented the program’s expansion plans to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization transportation policy board Sept. 12. He said TxDOT is working on a new funding agreement that would not only expand the program to more than 150 miles of Central Texas highways, but also provide funding through January 2018.

According to Austin Police Department data, roadways currently patrolled by HERO saw a 10 percent decrease in crashes in 2013 and saw zero secondary crashes as a result of stranded vehicles.

“Secondary crashes are big,” Nevares said. “If we’re able to eliminate that and we contribute that to the program, that’s a huge benefit. We’re having a lot of success with the current program.”

The HERO program currently covers I-35 from the SH 130 interchange in Georgetown to Yarrington Road in Kyle and US 183 from RM 620 near Cedar Park to I-35 in Austin.

TxDOT’s plans call for expanding the program to 150 miles on five highways by extending coverage on US 183 from Hwy. 290 to SH 45 S; extending it on I-35 through San Marcos and Jarrell; and adding services on Hwy. 71, Hwy. 290 and MoPac.

In mid-2017, the program would expand again for a total of 182 miles and seven highways by adding Toll 183A in Cedar Park and Leander and Hwy. 290 East and the Manor Expressway toll road as well as extending the program on Hwy. 71 East.

The program currently costs $1.5 million per year, and the expanded program will cost $2.6 million per year. CAMPO will continue providing the annual $1.5 million, and TxDOT will fund the remainder. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority does not contribute funding but administers the program.

Who you gonna call?

Stranded motorists can call 512-974-HERO (4376) between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. The HERO program can assist motorists and emergency responders in several ways:

  • Changing a flat tire

  • Filling vehicles with gasoline

  • Jump-starting dead batteries

  • Adding air to tires

  • Calling towing or emergency vehicles

  • Transporting motorists to a safe location

  • Moving disabled vehicles to safer locations

  • Performing minor vehicle repairs

  • Providing cell phone service and water to motorists

  • Removing debris from travel lanes and shoulders

  • Aiding emergency response personnel