NASHVILLE — With the help of a federal grant, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has expanded its popular HELP program in Chattanooga and plans similar actions across the state where the lime-green trucks patrol heavily traveled freeways.
TDOT was recently awarded a nearly $5.3 million federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant.
That, along with $1.32 million in state matching funds, is letting the department add more HELP operators and trucks and add a new route in Chattanooga and other urban areas in East, Middle and West Tennessee.
The phased-in expansion began in Chattanooga on June 1 with three additional operators and trucks, bringing the total number in the Chattanooga area to 17.
The local expansion provides an additional route on Interstate 24 west of the city to the Tennessee/Georgia line at Exit 169 in Georgia. Some 70,000 vehicles travel the nine-mile stretch of freeway daily.
"In the 15-plus years our HELP trucks have been on the road, they have proven to be an invaluable resource for TDOT, other first responders, and the traveling public," TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said in a news release. "Expanding the program will help us maximize the efficiency of our transportation system and better serve the citizens of our state."
HELP trucks patrol the most heavily traveled freeways in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis seven days a week, according to TDOT's website.
Trucks are equipped with a variety of tools, emergency medical equipment, traffic cones, traffic control signs, absorbent material, emergency and work lights, and other equipment to assist with incident management.
The vehicles also carry gasoline, diesel fuel and water. The directional arrow boards on top of the trucks can be raised from inside the truck.
HELP operators carry two-way radios and cellphones. All HELP operators are specially trained to deal with different kinds of emergencies, according to TDOT.
In the Jackson area, six new operators and trucks are being added, increasing the total to 25. Nashville will see nine new operators and trucks, bringing the total number to 33.
The Knoxville area will see three additional operators and trucks, bringing the total to 17.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on twitter at AndySher1.
This story was updated July 5 at 10:33 p.m. with more information.