The Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) logs about 4,000 traffic incidents each month just in the Baton Rouge area along Interstate 10 and its arterial roads.
Those incidents could be an overturned tanker that brings traffic to a grinding halt or a piece of flood debris that blew out of the back of a construction worker’s pickup. Regardless, the DOTD’s Motorist Assistance Patrol, or MAP for short, is responsible for managing these obstructions and making sure traffic in the region is flowing smoothly.
Scott Evans is one of the MAP crew members. He’s worked for the DOTD for about a year and has spent the last five years in similar traffic management roles.
“Our primary focus is to keep the travel lanes open and to protect the emergency responders who are trying to do their job, whether it’s police officers and firemen working an accident… or we have emergency workers trying to cut somebody out of a vehicle,” said Evans. “It could be something just like a single vehicle stalled in the lane.”
Evans, a former police officer of Chesterfield County, Virginia, said MAP typically recruits people with first responder backgrounds because they have good situational awareness and because they know how to direct traffic.
“They have to know how to legally move traffic and they have to be comfortable. You have to keep your head on a swivel,” he said. “When you’re dealing with the interstate there’s a lot of variables out there.”
There are 30 MAP vehicles that patrol the state. Eight vehicles patrol Baton Rouge, with four in the day and four at night. MAP also operates in New Orleans, Lake Charles and Shreveport.
The patrols only focus on the interstates, but there are “hot spots” throughout those interstate corridors that can also have big impacts on the rest of the system. West Baton Rouge Parish has a few of these “hot spots,” such as La. Hwy. 1, La. Hwy. 415 and U.S. Hwy. 190, Evans said.
Because MAP patrols certain sections of the highway, they are often the first to arrive on the scene. MAP workers are trained to check for injuries or fatalities when they arrive on the scene. If nobody is hurt, the next order of business is to clear the vehicle from the roadway, which might only be a short distance to the shoulder or (in the case of the bridge) something more complicated.
If a vehicle is flipped over or immobile, MAP patrollers start to divert traffic with temporary traffic controls (or TTCs), such as traffic cones, electronic signs and flares.
Although the interstate might shrink by one lane, it at least keeps traffic moving, Evans said. For each minute that it doesn’t move, congestion builds by about a mile, he said.
“Without calling them first responders, these guys are really the first on the scene,” said Stephen Glasscock, who is the head of the intelligent transportation systems department at DOTD. “Traffic management in a place like Baton Rouge, where you have congested highways most of the day, is extremely important.”
The MAP program began as a safety measure for various DOTD construction projects in the 90s when it was mostly a courtesy service, Glasscock said.
In 2004, with Hurricane Ivan, the DOTD began to look at its transportation and evacuation measures more seriously. After Katrina, the DOTD set up its traffic monitoring centers.
The center in Baton Rouge is filled with TV and computer screens, each displaying live feeds of the major routes in the region. The center has its own crew who monitor the screens and share traffic information via print, broadcast and online media.
“These are our eyes,” Evans said of the management center.
“I’ve seen MAP patrol in action and I’ve seen the benefits they provide, not only for the job we do – to manage traffic – but for the public,” he said.
MAP does not charge drivers for its service.
“As a state agency, we’re supposed to provide services to the citizens,” said DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett. “They pay their gas taxes to get those services.”
Since MAP began, the program has cut its roadside service time in half, from about 30-40 minutes to 15-20 minutes, Glasscock said. What started as a courtesy to the public has become an integral part of the state’s transportation infrastructure, he said.
Evans said he has stayed with the program because he sees that it works.
“Anyone who’s had these services provided for them see’s these services work,” he said. “If it didn’t prove to work, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Pictured above is Scott Evans, a Motorist Assistance Patrol member. Photo by Quinn Welsch/The West Side Journal.