A friend of mine recently bought a new car - one he spotted on the Internet and one he had to drive to Bothel to pick up. Even though his wife had bugged him for miles about stopping for gas, my friend's brand new car ran out of gas in the middle of I-5 on a rainy downtown Tacoma afternoon.
His two little girls started crying. His wife fumed in the passenger seat. My friend was truly stranded. While he raced through options trying to figure out what to do, a WSDOT incident response truck pulled up behind the stalled car. A five-gallon can of gas, and the day was saved.
That's the kind of good news story we love to hear. People really need help on the highways, and WSDOT's incident response fleet is doing what it can. Over the past five years, I've read stories of how our incident response staff have time and again shown up at exactly the right moment.
In addition to helping Washington State Patrol manage traffic during blocking incidents, incident response units routinely help provide fuel, change flat tires, provide minor vehicle repairs, push vehicles out of the road and clear road debris.
The latest WSDOT Gray Notebook (page 75) examines in more detail how the Incident Response Program is attempting to identify and remove traffic incidents as quickly as possible. The program's incident response units made 14,786 responses to incidents from October to December 2006, up roughly 13 percent from the same time period in 2004. That's up more than 50 percent from the same time period in 2002 when the program was expanded to include roving incident response units.
For more on the often strange ways that the incident response units are helping save the day, check out the WSDOT weekly report and its regular "Incident of the Week" feature.