TIFTON, GA (WALB) - Folks who help stranded motorists and remove debris from the Interstates are a common sight in the Atlanta metro area, and are now being seen in South Georgia as well.
Coordinated Highway Assistance & Maintenance Program (CHAMP) operators are patrolling Interstate 75, from the Florida state line to the Crisp/Dooly line, looking for maintenance issues that could be hazardous, and motorists who need help.
CHAMP trucks carry tool boxes, air compressors and enough fuel, including diesel, to get a driver to the nearest gas station. Operators can also jump batteries. They'll check to see if vehicles in the emergency lane or shoulder are occupied, and if the driver needs assistance.
They tag abandoned vehicles with a sticker with instructions to call if help is needed. They also patrol the welcome center and rest areas looking for motorists who might be having car trouble.
Motorists who need CHAMP assistance or want to report a road hazard should call 511.
Last year, state troopers handled 513 motorist assistance calls in just two counties along I-75, and have handled 87 so far this year. CHAMP will take some of the load off troopers, allowing them to handle more pressing matters.
Operators are trained in traffic control and can assist law enforcement to clear lanes as soon as possible when there is a crash or other traffic incident. CHAMP trucks have push bumpers to move vehicles out of the lane of traffic, electronic message boards to alert motorists of road issues and cones to block lanes of traffic.
"Our goals on this are, number one, safety, which includes law enforcement and other first responders, as well as the public," said Brian Purvis, Senior Transportation Operations Engineer with AECOM, the has contractor providing the CHAMP service. "We can protect those responders so they can do their jobs more efficiently."
Each CHAMP operator patrols about a 50-mile route. CHAMP patrol shifts are 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., but operators are also on call to provide 24-hour service. This is a year-round service, even on holidays. Operators do not accept tips or payment from the public.