- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

RICHMOND (AP) — The Virginia Department of Transportation is expanding a motorist assistance program that was slashed two years ago during the state budget crisis, officials said yesterday.

VDOT will put an additional $4 million into the Safety Service Patrol program, which helps stranded motorists in the Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg and Salem areas.

The $8 million-a-year program was cut by half in 2003. Restoring the funding will return the patrols to full strength, officials said.

“This is probably one of the most visible and vital services we offer the public,” said Tiffany Elliott, VDOT spokeswoman in Hampton Roads. “When it was cut back, it was sorely missed.”

Half of the additional money will go to Hampton Roads. Patrols that had been cut to 15 hours a day, Monday through Friday, will be restored to round-the-clock and will cover 100 highway miles, up from 40.

Teams started phasing in the expanded hours in Hampton Roads last weekend.

Specific plans for restoring service have not been announced for the other regions, where the cuts were less severe.

Northern Virginia, for example, maintained 24-hour service on 107 miles, but went from a dozen trucks to seven during peak hours, VDOT regional spokeswoman Joan Morris said.

The patrols help motorists in a variety of ways, including giving directions, delivering gasoline, helping change a flat tire and providing first aid to accident victims.

The patrols also provide traffic control at accident scenes. VDOT says the patrols can trim by one-fifth the time it takes to clear an accident or a disabled vehicle.

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