Treasure Valley's Incident Response team:
100,000 customers served
At some time, most drivers have a flat tire on their vehicle, need a tow, run out of gas, have an engine overheat, or are involved in or are on the scene of a fender-bender. That's why ITD formed the Incident Response unit in 1997.
How many drivers have cleared Christmas trees from the road, herded animals from the highway or recovered lost wedding dresses from the busy I-84 corridor? Chances are ... not too many. But it is all part of the evolving job description for the Incident Response team.
In the dozen years since the service began, crew members have responded to more than 100,000 incidents on the Connector (I-184) and on I-84 between Nampa and east Boise. Also, when asked by Idaho State Police, they have responded to fatal crashes in local or county destinations to provide traffic control or multi-agency assistance.
Crews also provide updates to the state's 511 Traveler Service through the State Communications Center and assist local law enforcement entities. On the three major summer holidays (Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day), the five-man crew usually sends two trucks to Idaho 55 between Horseshoe Bend Hill and Cougar Mountain Lodge to reduce traffic congestion.
"We respond to everything from stalled cars to accidents, and anything in between," Incident Response lead worker and manager Terry Zabel said. Zabel started in 1999.
Over the years, the crew has been called on to remove a Christmas tree from the highway, as well as water heaters, mattresses and other road hazards. They've herded animals - horses and dogs, mostly - off the road, recovered wallets and cell phones, assisted the Idaho State Police in providing traffic control for vice presidential motorcades of Dick Chaney and Joe Biden, and escorted the Special Olympics buses to Sun Valley.
And in August 2007, they found a wedding dress in the westbound lanes on I-84 between Nampa and Meridian, with the message Cherished Memories written on the box. They eventually reunited the dress with its thankful owner.
The Incident Response team just wrapped up its busiest year yet - more than 11,100 incidents in 2009.
The team only operates in the Treasure Valley. Other ITD districts respond to hazardous materials spills and road hazards, but no other district has a formal entity dedicated to the service and safety of commuters.
Whether it's changing a flat tire, jump-starting a car, refilling a radiator, providing a gallon of gas to a stranded motorist, offering use of a cell phone or other assistance, the Incident Response team stays busy.
"These guys do great things almost invisibly," said Dave Jones, district engineer for the southwest Idaho area who oversees the Incident Response team. "Running the program for more than a decade on a shoestring budget isn't ideal, but these guys are dedicated employees. It's a great service to commuters."
The program was created to improve safety and facilitate traffic flow on the interstates near Boise. The Incident Response team provides an invaluable service to commuters by reducing congestion through responding to disabled vehicles and other issues that impede traffic, reducing emissions from idling vehicles, and reducing secondary accidents that occur when traffic backs up. During peak commuting hours Monday through Friday, the Incident Response team patrols 21 miles from the Garrity to Eisenman interchanges, and the Connector from the Flying Wye to 13th Street.
The Incident Response team routinely puts 120,000 miles (or more) per year on the odometer and up to 13,000 miles on the trucks in a busy month.
Traffic volumes on the I-84 corridor in the Treasure Valley have significantly increased in the time the Incident Response team has been active. The largest increase has taken place between Nampa and Boise, as daily traffic averages have grown from 60,000 vehicles per day in 1997 to 82,000 per day today.
As traffic volumes have increased, the number of incidents has correspondingly grown. Traffic is projected to continue to skyrocket in the Treasure Valley, and the Incident Response team will continue to provide expected - and unexpected - service to commuters.