JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Crashes, broken down cars and debris on the road can cause heavy traffic delays, especially during rush hour.
To keep traffic flowing, the Florida Department of Transportation is expanding the Road Ranger program, a free service helping drivers in Northeast Florida. The program helps cut down on traffic delays, helps keep drivers safe and gets more eyes on the highway.
Roaming the highways of Jacksonville, Johnny Atkins and Cody Parham, both Road Rangers, assist with anything from debris removal to serious crashes. News4Jax rode along with them Wednesday morning.
After a call from FDOT about at least one person injured in a crash blocking the right and center lanes of northbound I-295 at Normandy Boulevard, the Road Rangers were off to the Westside.
Troopers and police were at the scene when they arrived. The Road Rangers' first task was using cones to create a barrier between drivers and the crash scene. A digital sign on their truck was also activated.
"That makes it safer for the responders and people involved, as well as oncoming traffic so they have a clear message of where to go as they approach the scene," said Parham, who's been a Road Ranger for seven years.
After the crash is cleared and the cones come back, the Road Rangers returned to patrol when FDOT alerted them about metal debris on southbound I-295.
"Our ultimate goal is to keep the highway open, free and clear of any vehicles or debris," Parham said.
The two men work for FDOT and offer free road assistance.
"We can help them change a tire, give out a gallon of gas," Parham said. "We can do jump starts."
While roaming the roadways, they spotted a car and van with hazard lights along I-295. It turned out the car had broken down, so Atkins and Parham helped push the it away from the roadway and onto the shoulder.
"We never know what we're walking up to and what the situation may be," Parham said.
They're prepared for just about anything and carry a variety of tools, including tire-changing tools, air hoses, fuel and oil.
Currently, there are 16 Road Rangers and eight trucks in the program that covers the Jacksonville area.
Last year, the Road Rangers responded to nearly 12,000 disabled vehicles, 4,600 wrecks and more than 2,500 flat tires.
The program has been so successful that FDOT is expanding the Road Ranger program to Nassau and St. Johns counties by the end of year. That means there will be more rangers and more trucks.
The state Department of Transportation is also getting more eyes on the road by installing additional traffic cameras along I-95 from Jacksonville to the Florida-Georgia border, including one in Yulee. The cameras will help authorities spot traffic incidents and respond to them faster.
Drivers can dial *FHP if they need traffic assistance from Road Rangers or the Florida Highway Patrol.
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