For the last 20 years, UDOT’s Incident Management Team (IMT) has been assisting Utah motorists. UDOT held a 20-year celebration on September 22 to commemorate their service. As part of the ceremony the, IMT offered ride-alongs to media outlets to help them understand what goes on behind the scenes.
I had the chance to ride along for afternoon with Ben to see how he helps Utah drivers on a day to day basis.
After Ben explained the safety features on the truck and how he is dispatched, we headed west on S.R. 201 to patrol his territory. During the off peak hours, the IMT trucks have a roving patrol, looking for people to assist, pick up debris and mark abandoned cars.
“We are always busy, looking for people that need help, a big part is removing debris that could damage cars or cause accidents,” Ben said.
No more than 5 minutes into to our patrol, we spot a large piece of tire retread in the road. Ben stops off the side of the road, turns on his lights and runs out to get the tire. Then, a call comes in on his radio asking for assistance in helping divert traffic due to a tractor trailer crash on the 3300 S off-ramp from I-15. When we arrived on the scene, another IMT vehicle was already helping to route traffic, so we set up the message board on the top of the IMT vehicle to inform drivers.
“We are just lucky no one got injured or killed by this, it could have been a lot worse,” Ben said.
After about 15 minutes on the scene, the crash is cleared… but there is a new problem to handle. The truck carrying the trailer had broken the hydraulic brake lines and was leaking fluid into traffic. “Hydraulic fluid is very slick for tires. This could cause a rear end collision or a motorcycle crash in a heartbeat,” said Ben. For clean-up, the IMT drivers use a compound that absorbs the fluid and can be swept up. Overall approximately 20 gallons of hydraulic fluid was spilled. Therefore, the Salt Lake Valley Environmental Health Department was called to the scene to ensure that it was properly cleaned up. The owners of the truck and trailer help in the clean-up and after about an hour and a half the road is ready to be opened again.
“There are things to do no matter where we go, this is good example of how things can go wrong pretty quick on the road,” Ben said.
As soon as we are available again, the Utah Highway Patrol asks for an assist on I-15 to help with a traffic stop. A woman who is pulled over is threatening to harm herself. We drive to scene and set up the cones and use the IMT message board to inform motorists that the HOV lane is closed ahead.
“Our main job is to keep people safe, and that includes making sure that highway patrol can do their job effectively,” said Ben.
After the scene was cleared we headed up I-80 towards Parley’s Canyon. Ben tells me that there is usually an overheated car or semi that they can push out of traffic or make sure they are okay. We don’t even make it past the first exit before we spot a driver on the shoulder. We turn around to find a woman attempting to change her tire but without success. Her tire won’t come off the car. After a few quick hits with with Ben’s rubber mallet, the tire comes off and the spare is installed.
“Sometimes it can take us five minutes to do what it could take people over thirty, we have the right tools to get people back on the road,” said Ben.
As the afternoon commute gets closer, the IMT vehicles stage themselves closer to major freeways to be in better position to help. Once again after only three miles there is a truck and camper on the side of the road. The CV joint has broken and they have been working on pulling it off for the last hour. They don’t have a big enough wrench to get the bolt off. Ben pulls out the impact drill and they are able to get the needed piece off in a matter of minutes.
Melinda from Magna was grateful for the help. “We would have had to go buy another wrench come back and then it would be rush hour,” she says. Melinda, like a lot of Utah drivers wasn’t aware that there was a team dedicated to help those stuck on the side of the road. “I had no idea, but I am sure glad that you guys came to help us, just having those flashing lights makes me feel safer,” she said.
After the repair was made, we lead them back onto the freeway and sent them on their way.
My time with Ben had come to an end. The IMT was bracing for the afternoon commute where they would help with crashes and more stranded motorists. As we drove back to the UDOT building, Ben pointed out three abandoned cars that he would go back to check out.
“We can’t help everyone all the time because we get called to accidents, but as you can see there is a lot of help needed on the roads,” Ben says as we finish our time together.
After just a few short hours I saw that the Incident Management Team has a huge impact on traffic and keeping people safe. There is a lot of thought, time and effort to ensure that Utah roads are safe as they can be. So if you see an IMT truck on the side of the road, be sure to slow down and give them as much space as possible.
This guest post was written by Adam McMillan, Traffic Operations Center Intern.