AUSTIN (KXAN) - If your car breaks down on Interstate 35, chances are the first person that will help you out won't be the tow truck driver but someone from the Highway Emergency Response Operation program.
It's been four months since the roadside assistance program relaunched . while they've helped out hundreds of people, it turns out not many drivers know they're out there.
Every morning, HERO operator William Mackin loads up his HERO truck and heads out on the highway. He spends his day looking for drivers on the side of the road needing some help.
"We've moved quite a few vehicles," said Mackin.
Since September when HERO started patrolling I-35, they've helped out 1,300 motorists. And those numbers don't include the motorists helped in January.
Something as simple as a stall can quickly back up traffic for miles during rush hour. So the goal with the HERO trucks is to get them to the stranded motorist as quickly as possible to get them moving again so that traffic can, too.
"Everything from flat tires to radiators, to gas. People run out of fuel," said Mike Heiligenstein, exexcutive director of Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.
The roadside assistance program is funded with $2 million in stimulus funds. While the folks with the CTRMA know they've helped out hundreds of stranded motorist, they haven't studied the direct impact their efforts have had on improving traffic flow.
Their other big challenge is having motorists call them directly. Some 80 percent of the drivers who have been helped were found by the HERO operators as they drive around.
"That's been one of the challenges: making sure we have a public awareness of that," said Heiligenstein.
Now with only a year and a half left in funding, Mobility Authority officials said they hope to keep the program going because they believe it's making an impact on traffic.
"We need to keep it going if we can, so we're looking for sponsors in the corporate community," said Heiligenstein.
Right now, the HERO program patrols I-35 from Williamson to Hays counties, but officials said they hope to expand it to U.S. Highway 183.
Those who are stranded on the side of the road can contact the HERO program by calling 512-974-HERO.
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