As the economy eases open and we brace for the return of traffic and more road construction – will it ever end? – I have some good news.

If you’ve been in El Paso for a while, you may remember the Courtesy Patrol that the Texas Department of Transportation started in El Paso in 1993. Four trucks on two routes, Interstate 10 and US 54, would help drivers in need, clearing stalled vehicles, filling empty fuel tanks and changing flat tires.

Unfortunately, the El Paso program was a victim of budget cuts and went away in 2010.

Fortunately, the program is back and bigger. Now called the Highway Emergency Response Operator, or HERO, program, it is funded by state and federal dollars and includes a staff of 15 people, five trucks and one tow truck. The program operates 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday on I-10, Loop 375 and US 54.

Motorists in need of assistance can call 915-790-HERO (4376).

“The No. 1 benefit is safety,” says Tomás Treviño, TxDOT’s El Paso district engineer.

There is plenty of work to do. The week ending June 13, there were 146 incidents, including 67 stalled vehicles and 39 abandoned vehicles, according to TxDOT.

The HERO teams perform minor roadside repairs, move disabled vehicles from travel lanes, clear debris, assist law enforcement and jump start batteries, as well as provide gas, cellphone service and emergency traffic control at incidents.

That means stopped vehicles get cleared from travel lanes more quickly, reducing backups and the accidents caused by them – good news for anybody who has ever found themselves stranded on I-10 or facing a wall of red brake lights.

There’s another benefit: Fewer police officers have to respond to stalled vehicles and other routine traffic calls. Treviño said they have held several meetings to coordinate with local law enforcement and first responders.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the funding for the $4.3 million, two-year program in 2016 and awarded the contract to Serco Inc. last year. The company describes itself as “one the world’s leading service companies.”

And, finally, a quick message from Jennifer Wright, TxDOT’s super-fun public affairs officer in El Paso: “If you are interested in helping shape the long-term future of El Paso, you will want to weigh in on an upcoming proposed project for a key segment of I-10, and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of wherever you are comfortable,” she writes.

The project, known as Downtown 10, will remake I-10 through Downtown, and TxDOT’s “virtual public meeting” begins June 25 at 5 p.m. It includes a pre-recorded presentation and the opportunity to provide electronic comments. It will be posted online at ReimagineI10.com/downtown10.html.

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