HAMPTON, N.H. — Assistance is on the way for motorists suffering car trouble on the stretch of Interstate 95 between the Massachusetts and Maine borders.
The Motorist Service Patrol, a free vehicle assistance program launched by the Bureau of Turnpikes in 2010, kicked off a new season on Friday, May 18.
Cruising the highway in a bright orange Ford F350 truck, employees from the Department of Transportation will be on patrol between the state’s southern border in Seabrook and Exit 7 in Portsmouth.
Equipped with a plethora of tools to help get drivers back on the road, their mission is to seek out and assist motorists who are stranded on the roadside and provide any necessary assistance.
A tire jack, an air compressor, a fire extinguisher, flares, reflective triangles, flashing magnetic lights, and miscellaneous nuts and bolts stored in a blue Maxwell House coffee container are among the items tucked within the rear compartments of the patrol truck, which will be on the roadway for five hours per day during the business week and 10 hours per day on weekends.
For motorists who make the mistake of running out of fuel, the truck carries a 5-gallon gas canister and a small supply of diesel fuel.
There’s also a shovel for digging cars out of ditches, a jug of water to cool overheating engines and a set of jumper cables, which can be affixed at plugs in the front or the back of the truck.
The vehicle is also equipped with a special bumper to push disabled vehicles down the road.
“We’ve got a little bit of everything,” Assistant Patrol Foreman Richard Merrill said on Thursday. “You never know what you’re going to come across out there. We try to fix them up and get them on their way as safely as possible.”
The service patrol, which is headquartered at the DOT maintenance facility near the Hampton Toll Plaza, will operate during early morning and afternoon commuting hours this summer. The goal is to reduce the potential for significant traffic tie-ups by clearing disabled vehicles off the roadway as soon as possible, according to information provided by DOT.
The state introduced the service as a three-month pilot project. It was deemed a success and the state is creating plans to implement nearly year-round service.
Studies have shown that even minor incidents on the shoulder of a busy highway can snarl traffic and reduce safety, since drivers tend to veer away from disabled cars, according to information provided by DOT.
The service patrols will operate this summer from 5:30 to 8 a.m., and from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The Friday afternoon shift will run from 12 to 7 p.m.
On Saturday, patrol drivers will be working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The shift will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.
When they aren’t assisting motorists, service patrol members will routinely scoop up roadside debris, ranging from blown-out tires to bulky items that fall off trucks. The patrol’s service vehicle is also equipped with a radio system that interfaces with NHDOT’s Traffic Management Center in Concord. The center has direct contact with state police and other emergency responders, and patrol drivers who come across an accident scene have the ability to radio police for help.
“State police love it that we’re out there constantly,” Merrill said. The patrol be will active from this weekend until the weekend after Labor Day, for a total of 18 weeks and approximately 900 hours of service.
DOT officials say they’ve received a wealth of positive feedback about the program, including at least 35 comment cards with positive feedback received from motorists who were assisted by the service patrol.
Between May and September 2011, the MSP program assisted a total of 753 drivers, averaging 251 per month.
Drivers logged 28,000 miles while on patrol last year. The labor cost of the service was $31,000, according to information provided by DOT. That cost is set to increase to $60,000 this year.
“I enjoy helping people on their way,” Merrill said. “I know if I broke down, or somebody in my family broke down, out there, I’d want somebody out there to help them right away.”
(c)2012 the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.).
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Distributed by MCT Information Services.