The roadside assistance program designed to help stranded motorists in Central Texas is growing from serving 68 to 138 highway miles.
The program is called the Highway Emergency Response Operator, or HERO, program, the Texas Department of Transportation is also expanding the fleet of HERO vehicles from six to 24 trucks. The new Dodge Ram 2500 trucks are enhanced with equipment that will allow the trucks to push disabled vehicles off a roadway, a feat the existing trucks could not handle.
“This will make a significant difference during rush hour when stranded or disabled vehicles can back up traffic for miles,” said Terry McCoy, Austin district engineer for TxDOT.
The program previously operated on I-35 from Georgetown to Kyle and on US 183 from Cedar Park to Hwy. 290. Expansion of the program is occurring in three phases:
- Phase 1: Starting Oct. 16, the program expands on I-35 from Kyle through San Marcos to the Hays and Comal county lines and includes coverage of US 183 from Hwy. 71 to SH 45 SE.
- Phase 2: On Dec. 4, additional trucks will begin patrolling the existing service areas on I-35 and US 183.
- Phase 3: On Jan. 1, the program will expand to include MoPac from Parmer Lane in North Austin to SH 45 S in South Austin. The program will also serve Hwy. 71 from RM 620 in Bee Cave to US 183 near the airport and Hwy. 290 from the Travis and Hays county lines to the Y at Oak Hill in Southwest Austin.
In 2010, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which builds and manages toll facilities, started the HERO program. In 2018, TxDOT is taking over management of the program.
The program costs about $3.6 million per year, and the cost is being split between TxDOT and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. About $2.1 million in funding is coming from TxDOT maintenance funds, and CAMPO is supplying the remaining $1.5 million per year.
Will Conley, who chairs CAMPO’s policy board comprising local elected officials and the Precinct 3 commissioner in Hays County, said the program is an improvement not only to mobility but to public safety.
“It keeps our law enforcement officers and our firefighters focused on their primary roles and their primary jobs instead of out there assisting a constituent in moving a car off the highway,” he said.
Sgt. Victor Taylor of the Texas Department of Public Safety said nationally about 20 of crashes on roadway are secondary crashes as a result of the first incident. Removing stalled vehicles and providing motorists warning of incidents can greatly reduce those secondary crashes, he said.
“Since 2013, we have seen a 10 percent decrease in crashes of HERO-patrolled roadways,” he said. “There have been no secondary crashes when we have HERO vehicles. They’re assisting with incidents.”
If a motorist needs assistance in the service area, he or she can call the HERO program at 512-974-4376 between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.
- Expanding from 68 to 138 miles of highways
- Expanding from 6 to 24 HERO trucks
- 61, 558 total responses since 2010
- In 2015, about 15,000 responses
- More than 12,000 responses in 2016
- 4,195 crashes on I-35 in 2016
- Average clearing time of 12 minutes
- Performed 60 percent of incident assists without calling law enforcement
- 1,000 man-hours for first responders saved because of HERO program