March 7, 2011 in City

Getting There: Incident Response team helps keep I-90 open

By The Spokesman-Review
Mike Prager photo

Mike Moxcey of the Washington State Department of Transportation is one of two Incident Response drivers on Interstate 90 through Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

The 60-mile stretch of Interstate 90 from Stateline to Four Lakes is a safer piece of highway thanks to two operators in Incident Response rigs run by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Equipped with flashing message boards, the trucks show up at accidents and patrol the freeway for disabled or abandoned vehicles, among other problems.

Their job is to reduce freeway hazards.

The trucks have become a common sight over the years at collisions, especially during morning and evening rush periods.

“We are Johnny-on- the-spot,” said veteran driver Mike Moxcey, who has been with the Incident Response program since it began as a full-time operation nine years ago.

He and fellow driver Kim Lynch logged more than 3,600 calls in the past year, including 161 collisions from November through February alone.

By far, the most common problem is disabled vehicles. Moxcey has a hydraulic jack, tools and several gallons of extra gasoline available to get motorists moving again.

If necessary, Moxcey can use the front of his truck to push a disabled vehicle out of travel lanes. He’s even given boosts to semitrucks going up Sunset Hill.

At accidents, the Incident Response drivers will position themselves at the start of a detour around the scene. The programmable message board is set to warn drivers and to direct them to lanes that are open.

“It’s been tremendously successful” at reducing the number of secondary accidents by warning oncoming motorists about the blocked lanes, Moxcey said.

Over the past year, WSDOT records show that the drivers responded to 536 abandoned vehicles, 617 incidents of debris in the roadway, 1,760 disabled vehicles, six fatal collisions, 124 injury collisions, 283 noninjury collisions, six unspecified law enforcement actions and 304 reports classified as “other.”

The freeway was completely closed 24 times in the past year. There were 963 incidents in which one or two lanes were blocked.

The two drivers work back-to-back shifts from early mornings into the evenings on weekdays and then are on call at other times, including weekends.

The job is not without risk. Moxcey’s Ford F-150 diesel pickup truck was rear-ended recently by a motorist who was not paying attention. Moxcey said he was sitting at the wheel of his rig when it was hit. He was jolted badly, but not injured, he said.

It was one of two recent collisions involving the Incident Response team, said Al Gilson, WSDOT spokesman in Spokane

Two years ago, Moxcey said, he watched two television news staffers dive for safety over a guardrail when a vehicle lost control on an icy stretch of the freeway during a winter storm.

From his experience, he said, he believes that drivers often are “lulled into a false sense of security” on icy roads and neglect to appreciate the danger of traveling on a slippery surface.

His advice: “It’s all about looking past the hood of your car and seeing what’s going on ahead.”

Cable barrier installation begins

The WSDOT is planning to start work today on installation of a high-tension cable median barrier on U.S. Highway 195 near Mullen Hill Road. Gilson said there may be intermittent shoulder or lane restrictions. The work will be postponed if it is too cold or snowy.

Road work survival for businesses

The city of Spokane is holding a workshop from 7:30 to 9 a.m. on March 24 in Council Chambers at City Hall to help business owners survive street construction.

The seminar will give advice on staying informed about projects and providing feedback to construction engineers; what to expect when construction begins; developing strategies for dealing with construction; survival tips; communications and marketing; and steps to get the business moving once construction ends.

The workshop is being held in partnership with the Greater Spokane Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. The sessions will be shown later on City Cable channel 5.

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