Houston Mayor Bill White first proposed the idea of a traffic mobility team last spring. The past ten months or so were spent drafting policies and hiring 24 civilian mobility officers. White says the team will respond to traffic congestion and help ease the flow in spots where traffic is backed up.
"At the bottlenecks we need to have people out there directing traffic when there's a big jam. We saw what happened when we first -- you know had the first pre-season game in Reliant Stadium and there was a two-hour traffic jam, but then when you had people directing traffic on the scene the traffic flowed a lot better. And we need some of the civilians who are properly trained and uniformed to be doing that so that we don't have to take police officers off the beat."
The civilian officers will be uniformed in khaki with lime green vests. They'll drive marked vehicles, mostly scooters, a few vans and two lift bucket trucks to assist with fixing broken traffic signals. HPD Lt. Jeff Rosenthal says the team will work directly with the Public Works department and will report to HPD.
"And these people will be trained through the Houston Police Academy on traffic direction, their legal authority and how to expedite the flow of traffic and recognize traffic engineering issues in cooperation with public works and engineering department on how to recognize when there are issues that need addressing -- signal light timing, sequencing and such."
The officers will have the legal authority to direct and control traffic as well as enforce city parking regulations. They can assist at the scene of minor accidents, where no injuries are reported, but they won't be able to issue citations, tow vehicles or conduct accident investigations. Rosenthal says the team will be dispatched throughout the city between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the goal that commuters notice a visible difference in traffic congestion.
"Hopefully they will see traffic moving where signal lights are out as opposed to being frustrated and stuck and waiting. Hopefully there will be someone out there actually able to physically direct the traffic and expedite that flow."
The Mobility Response Team, including officers, engineers, equipment and supplies will have a budget of approximately $1.8 million per year. The team won't be operational until July 1st. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.