Big decision looms for Safe Clear

October 6, 2009 4:02:46 PM PDT
Anyone who lived in Houston five years ago can tell you what a nightmare it was when a wreck tied up a freeway. It wasn't just the accident that drivers had to worry about. It was also the crowd of tow trucks causing more problems. Many credit the Safe Clear program for changing all that, and now the city is about to make a big decision on the program's future.

To ride along side Cory Cygan is to see Safe Clear operating the way it was intended.

"A lot of times, they don't have any money," he said. "They don't have any money to pay for a wrecker, so we get them off the freeway for free. They thank us that we saved their life."

When we were with him Tuesday, he picked up Heather Hall, who ran out of gas on the side of the freeway, and dropped her off at the nearest gas station at no cost to her.

But the contract that's kept the program rolling on Houston's highways for almost five years is set to expire in 2010. Instead of putting the contract out to bid again, city council is considering an extension, and that's a problem for Richard Gonzalez. He says other operators, like himself, deserve the chance to bid on the contract.

"I just feel that several companies have the same qualifications as the ones that are on there right now and deserve the opportunity to be able to assist the mayor in his new Safe Clear program," he said.

The proposed extension would go towards the current 11 operators. It would last three years, with two one-year options. Current contractor Jeanette Rash says it was a big learning curve to get Safe Clear going and changing contractors now would only make the program worse

"I think they don't understand the program and I think if they really knew what it took, the commitment to do what we do, they really wouldn't be interested," she said.

For now, Cygan and the other Safe Clear wreckers will continue to travel the city's highways. But council members are gearing up for some heated debate.

"We want to hear the concerns that they're bringing forth because it's some of the concerns you have today," said Houston City Councilmember Wanda Adams.

We haven't heard the last of this issue. It's slated to be voted at city hall on Wednesday, but we've been told it will be delayed. A lot of the stakeholders ? both the people who have the contracts and the ones who want them ? will all meet Wednesday night, with a vote likely coming in a couple of weeks.

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