More Hays County drivers will soon be able to receive roadside assistance when they experience vehicular difficulties along Interstate 35.
County commissioners voted unanimously during their Jan. 15 meeting to support the extension of the Highway Emergency Response Operator, or H.E.R.O. program. H.E.R.O., a program of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, provides free roadside assistance to travelers along I-35 as far north as Round Rock and parts of U.S. Highway 183.
Currently, the services stop in Kyle. With the extension, H.E.R.O. will provide services an extra 10 miles south, stopping at Yarrington Road in north San Marcos.
H.E.R.O. will have operators patrolling the new stretch of road during peak traffic hours, though drivers who become stranded outside that period may still contact the Mobility Authority for assistance.
Mike Heiligenstein, executive director for the Mobility Authority, said thinking about stranded motorists on I-35 was one of the most “threatening” aspects of his job as a county commissioner.
“Whenever you see somebody out there who broke down on the interstate, your heart goes out to them because you don’t know what to do,” Heiligenstein said.
The services provided by H.E.R.O. include fixing flat tires and providing fuel so vehicles can exit the highway to the nearest gas station. However, unlike private roadside assistance companies, H.E.R.O. does not tow cars unless they are completely disabled. Heiligenstein said H.E.R.O. provides an opportunity for a “safe haven” on the interstate.
However, Heiligenstein said H.E.R.O. does not provide the same services a private company does due to its need to be as fast as possible in getting to other stranded motorists. Though H.E.R.O. assists many drivers, Heiligenstein said it is not just a “courtesy patrol.”
“One of the main purposes behind this is to keep traffic moving on I-35,” Heiligenstein said. “When we do have a car break down, it’s not just that lane or shoulder, it’s the next lane over that’s now inhibited.”
Drivers can contact H.E.R.O. directly, but many of their calls come from police dispatchers.
Commissioner Mark Jones, Precinct 2, said he has already started the process of working with law enforcement agencies in Hays County, Kyle and Buda.
“There are a lot of good aspects of this program,” Jones said. “They help a lot of people get off the road, but the main thing is to keep traffic flowing so it’s not congested.”
Commissioner Will Conley, Precinct 3, said H.E.R.O. will help with freeing up law enforcement.
“This allows them to get back on the street and do what they do best,” Conley said.
Conley said he supports the extension because the frequency of H.E.R.O. activity in Austin shows there is a demand for the service.
After the vote, Judge Bert Cobb echoed Conley’s sentiment.
“On the way to Austin, I saw a lady with a flat tire and two deputy sheriffs helping her,” Cobb said. “I’m sure the sheriff’s office is going to be happy about this program.”