EL PASO, Texas - Texas Department of Transportation operated a courtesy patrol program from 1993 to this summer. They decided to put the program on hold because of lack of funding. Now it's left up TXDOT's transportation partners, such as police, fire and the Department of Public Safety, to block off traffic when necessary, which is a very dangerous responsibility to take on.
It's last operation was in 2010 and served countless El Pasoans. But the Highway Emergency Response Operator Program, or HERO, was too expensive.
"The heros do something very valuable, and that is, trying to make any incident safer," said TXDOT Spokeswoman Blanca Del Valle.
TXDOT is working with a tight budget and had to decide between building better roads or maintaining safer roads. They chose better roads.
"It's a very dangerous job," Del Valle said. "We had one operator hit at one time. He was working the area and a vehicle passed the traffic control and hit him."
Officer Angel Garcia, who was killed Sunday morning after stopping on I-10 to pick up a ladder, had no traffic control other than his flashing lights. But HERO's had cones and special vehicles equipped with extra lights, gas, water and tools for stranded motorists. They also helped emergency crews by blocking off traffic so they could get to the scene of an accident.
El Paso had four operators and three vehicles which cost around $400,000 a year. Del Valle estimates is would cost a little more to bring the program back. And she says the only way to get it back is to speak out.
"I guess I would start with our elected officials," Del Valle said.
Taxpayers will have to choose in a struggling economy, whether they want to hire highway operators to do the dangerous work of keeping roads safe, or take the risk themselves.
Police are still looking for any information regarding Sunday's accident. If you have details, they ask you call 832-4400 OR 566-TIPS.