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TxDOT roadside assistance program expanding to San Antonio


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The Texas Department of Transportation’s roadside assistance program, known as HERO, is coming to San Antonio starting Monday.


By October, HERO will have 28 trucks on 14 major San Antonio highways, including Loop 410, Loop 1604, Interstate 35, U.S. 281, U.S. 90, Interstate 10 and Texas 151. Hoping for under-20-minute response times, the trucks will run from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., usually two vehicles per route, less frequently overnight and on weekends.


If it sounds familiar, it’s because HERO-like programs operated in some Texas cities more than 10 years ago but were often stalled by budget cuts.


HERO drivers in Dodge Ram 2500 pickups will be able to change a flat tire; offer a gallon of gas, water, jump starts and cellphone calls; and push disabled cars to a safer spot. They will not tow your car.


“We’ve seen fatalities where good Samaritans stop to help people and they get hit,” TxDOT traffic operations manager Dale Picha said. “It’s really sad, all because their car broke down, so our goal first is to get them safely off the road.”


HERO trucks will be loaded with electronic arrow boards, orange cones, on-board video, wireless cameras, strobes and direct radio communication with TransGuide, TxDOT’s “smart highway” control center that monitors some 190 cameras on San Antonio roads and can issue warnings to drivers approaching accident scenes.


Picha said Austin’s experience with HERO taught him that its drivers also will spend a great deal of time clearing debris from highways and helping make an accident scene safer for police and victims.


“You’d be shocked,” he said, “at how many sofas are thrown on our freeways.”


HERO operations in San Antonio will be funded with $16 million over three fiscal years, with costs shared by the city, county and state. They will be run by a London-based multinational contractor, Serco, which has operated Hong Kong hospitals, the Dubai Metro system, Australian prisons and London’s traffic lights, among other ventures. Its North America office is in Herndon, Va.


Starting in the early 1980s, according to Picha, San Antonio’s TxDOT employees ran a “Courtesy Patrol” operation for many years, but it was discontinued in 2008-2009 because of budget cuts. Since then, San Antonio has remained the largest metropolitan area in the country without a safety service patrol.


“I give kudos to the city of San Antonio and to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff” for funding HERO, Picha said. “We looked at the 20 largest cities in the U.S., and I think 16 of them had some program like this.”


HERO’s red, white and blue trucks can be summoned by calling 210-732-4376 (HERO) or 911.


Picha said the program was not meant to replace or compete with auto insurance companies’ roadside assistance programs.


“Those often take awhile. We want to have some urgency,” Picha said. “We just really want people to know how dangerous it is for you to be sitting out there on the concrete with your vehicle. We talk about this all the time.”



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