The Georgia Department of Transportation is launching a program to assist motorists and to make the state’s Interstate highways safer, the DOT announced Tuesday.
The program, known by the acronym CHAMP, or Coordinated Highway Assistance and Maintenance Program, is launching Tuesday in northeast and west central Georgia, which includes the Columbus area.
Sam Wellborn, the Third District DOT board member, which includes Columbus, called Tuesday a “very, very significant day for the third district.”
Wellborn said that in the first 24 hours of operations, CHAMP operators had 170 “contacts” in the third district alone. A contact can be assisting a motorist or addressing an unsafe situation, or any of the other tasks tthey handle.
“We have the largest piece of the program because we have pieces of six interstatees in the third district,” Wellborn said. “This is going to be a awonder addition for the traveling public.”
Wellborn said the program would not be possible without the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, which funds it.
CHAMP is separate from the Department’s long-standing Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) program in the Atlanta region. Its addition to Georgia DOT’s safety program makes Georgia the first state to provide statewide interstate highway assistance.
“What makes CHAMP different from HERO and other similar patrols across the country is that it specifically addresses highway maintenance,” state Traffic Engineer Andrew Heath said. “CHAMP operators are Georgia DOT’s eyes on the road. By proactively responding to maintenance issues, as well as addressing incident clearance and motorist assistance, they will make Georgia highways safer.”
CHAMP operators report or resolve roadway maintenance issues and assist law enforcement with traffic incidents to ensure safe, quick clearance and efficient traffic flow. They provide immediate notification about bridge or roadway damage, downed signs, missing markings, signal malfunctions, and commercial vehicle crashes and spills.
They clear clogged drains, clean up minor non-hazardous spills, and remove debris, vegetative growth and abandoned vehicles. CHAMP operators also aid motorists who need it.
When fully operational, CHAMP will be staffed by 48 full-time operators and 18 full-time dispatchers. A total of 51 branded, custom-fitted CHAMP trucks will patrol 16 different routes on interstates seven days a week, 16 hours a day, and will be on call the other eight hours. Operators do not accept tips or payment from the public.
For motorist assistance or to report a crash, infrastructure damage or debris on a Georgia interstate or state route, motorists are directed to dial 511. Callers will be asked to provide operators with their location, milepost or nearest exit number to assist CHAMPs in locating the incident.