Roadside assistance

When state officials were looking to get trucks off the highway, we’re sure this isn’t what they had in mind.

Citing a lack of money, the Virginia Department of Transportation is cutting the budget of its popular Safety Service Patrol which helps more than 100,000 stranded motorists on the state’s busiest highways. The budget of the program will be cut from $8 million to $4 million. This means the number of trucks patrolling 94 miles of Northern Virginia highways will be cut from 12 to seven, during peak hours.

While most drivers have never benefited from this service, there are countless drivers who are glad the state trucks are there with their flashing yellow lights during times of despair. Nothing is more distressing than a car breaking down at night along Interstate 95 or I-66. When a car is disabled, the shoulder of an interstate becomes one of the most dangerous places on earth with cars and trucks speeding by at speeds in excess of 65 MPH.

While some motorists can call for assistance from the likes of AAA, the safety patrol trucks are a welcome sight to many. Just having a state truck with its flashing lights warning traffic provides enough of a safety zone to change a tire or fill the tank with gas.

More than 65 percent of the state’s safety patrol trucks answer calls in Northern Virginia, where interstates carry local commuters along with traffic traveling up and down the east coast corridor.

These cuts in service, much like the cuts at DMV, are required to balance agency budgets at a time when tax revenue is scarce. It’s during these times that state officials must prioritize, which is why VDOT has chosen to cut its safety patrol budget in half.

While $4 million may seem like a lot of money considering VDOT’s recent tough times, it does make us wonder how many times $4 million was wasted during “the good times” of the late 1990s when the department had money to burn on highway cost overruns and faulty computerization deals with shaky contractors.

That’s something to think about the next time you’re changing a tire along the interstate in the pouring rain.

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