116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
After success in Iowa City, program to clear roads faster after large crashes expands
Iowa DOT rolls out the incentives for towing companies around Des Moines
An Iowa Department of Transportation program aimed at clearing large crashes quickly to prevent traffic from backing up recently was expanded to the Des Moines area after proving successful around Iowa City.
The Towing and Recovery Incentive Program, or TRIP, has been active in the Iowa City area for a little over a year, starting in late 2021. The program was introduced in the Des Moines area in January. The concept research for the project, including looking at other states that have similar programs, was initiated back in 2017.
The program works with towing companies to make sure they have the proper equipment to clear crash scenes involving large vehicles, and are willing to keep that equipment ready and on standby in case of a wreck.
After getting called to a crash, a towing company that’s part of TRIP can receive a $2,500 incentive payment from the Iowa DOT if the scene is cleared within a certain time frame. To qualify for the payment, the company must arrive on-scene within 45 minutes on weekdays, or within 60 minutes on nights and weekends, and have the crash cleared within 90 minutes of when it is given the green light to proceed. Companies can earn an additional $1,000 incentive if special equipment is required for the crash scene and they come prepared with that equipment.
According to Ashley Hochberger, the Iowa DOT’s Traffic Message Channel and Highway Helper Program manager, the amount of time lanes are closed due to a collision has been reduced by about an hour at crashes where the TRIP program has been used.
In the Iowa City area, the program covers Interstate 80 from mile marker 225, about 5 miles east of Williamsburg, to mile marker 254, in West Branch. It also covers Interstate 380 and Highway 218 from mile marker 10, between Shueyville and Swisher, down to mile marker 80, a couple miles east of Riverside.
The decision to start the program in that area was based on crash data and the concern that construction projects on I-380 and I-80 would increase the possibility of crashes. The decision to expand the project to the Des Moines area came from similar research, Hochberger said.
“It has been so successful in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area. We can gauge that by feedback, which is obviously very useful, but then also by looking at the clearance time that is documented,” Hochberger said. “So, given the success over there, and the crash volume in the Des Moines metro area, and also the construction projects that are happening in (the Des Moines) area, we thought that it would be a good opportunity to utilize that here as well.”
In the Des Moines area, TRIP covers parts of I-80, from mile marker 110, in Desoto, to mile marker 122, in West Des Moines, and from mile marker 136, in Des Moines, to mile marker 142, in Altoona. It also covers Interstate 35 from mile marker 89, in Ankeny, to mile marker 113, in Ames.
The boundaries are pretty firm, in order to keep resources available, but Hochberger said sometimes they can be bent for extenuating circumstances. In one instance this year, there was a large crash on I-35 at mile marker 116, and although the crash was 3 miles outside of the coverage area, TRIP was activated.
“The ultimate goal is to get the roadway back open and flowing so the traveling public can get to their destinations safely and efficiently,” Hochberger said.
Hochberger said she’s been asked several times if TRIP will ever go statewide. While that is a possibility, she said she anticipates difficulties in getting the program going in some rural areas.
“We have to evaluate it to see the success, because I would imagine that if it’s successful here in Des Moines, which I fully anticipate it to be, then we could look at continued expansion. It think it gets a little trickier when we get into the rural areas,” Hochberger said. “There’s probably a need, but it just get a little trickier with funding and the tow services availability.”
Towing companies that have participated in the program in the Iowa City area said that while they’ve always had a goal to clear crashes quickly and keep the community safe, TRIP has changed what they focus on when clearing a large crash.
“When you get there, you always know you’re on the clock. So your team is always working as efficiently as possible,” said Holly Paris, a manager for the Marion location of Holiday and Tegeler Towing. “The goal is opening the road, whereas maybe prior to the TRIP program the goal would have been removing the (crashed vehicle). Now it’s opening the road, whether that means pushing the (vehicle) into the ditch, or whatever it means. … It’s ‘let’s get this road open, make it so cars can travel safely and traffic’s not backing up.’”
Paris said that sometimes the goal of clearing the road might mean moving the crashed vehicle to the side and coming back at a less busy time to close lanes and remove it.
The incentive payments from TRIP have been helpful in maintaining the expensive equipment required to remove large crashes, Paris said, but Holiday and Tegeler would be clearing roads as quickly as possible regardless.
“It definitely helps with the funding side of it, the financial side of it. To be honest, we don’t do it for that side of it. Our group here just really truly loves what we do, and our guys love to work the big semi wrecks, and they love to be out there,” Paris said. “We provide very good equipment for that reason, that our employees just like to do it. The financial side obviously is helpful as far as maintaining equipment.”
When a towing company responds to a semi-truck crash, it will bill the trucking company to cover most of the business costs, but the incentive payments from TRIP can be helpful in filling in gaps, especially since the trucks required for semi crashes are so expensive to buy and maintain.
Chad Peska, general manager for Papa’s Truck & Trailer Repair in Cedar Rapids, said that his company recently bought a new truck for towing semis and it cost almost $700,000.
“And then you have the maintenance. We have 10 gallons of oil that goes in it. We’ve got $20 to $30 fuel filters, and $80 oil filters,” Peska said. “We’re pretty lucky, though, with what we do, because we have a shop that is connected. So, all of our labor, it’s not free, I have to pay my people, but I don’t have to pay a labor rate at another shop.”
Peska also said that while the incentive payment is helpful in keeping the expensive trucks maintained, the number one priority has always been keeping people safe.
“We always try to respond as fast as we can just because we understand that the road’s closed and the longer that road’s closed, the higher possibility there is for secondary accidents to happen. So, we always try to get out there as quick as we can and prioritize our calls, keeping that in mind,” Peska said.
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