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SafeClear renewal pending

More money for another year of SafeClear is on the agenda for City Council today.

Council approval would authorize $1,869,474 for the program during the fiscal year that began July 1. The money would be used to reimburse 11 companies contracted to tow disabled cars off freeways.

The program’s annual price tag — including the cost of police assistance on tows — comes to more than $3.2 million, according to the city budget.

Councilwoman Addie Wiseman said the program, originally meant to be revenue neutral, is not worth the money.

“They can talk it up, but they have not been able to truly prove the program is worth the money spent,” Wiseman said. “People would rather have the money spent on police in their neighborhoods.”

Houston police data shows that freeway accidents declined by almost 20 percent, or 2,500 crashes, between 2004 and 2006. The White administration credits Safe Clear, but Wiseman said the decrease could just as well be from fewer construction projects.

Safe Clear met with opposition when it began in 2005. Critics said the poor could not afford the fees, and that drivers with flat tires should be allowed a chance to fix it themselves if they weren’t blocking traffic. The program was changed later so flat fixes and short-distance tows are subsidized by the city.

“We have begun to change behavior, get people to get off the roadway sooner,” said Councilman Adrian Garcia, a supporter of Safe Clear. “We’ve seen two years of double-digit reductions in crashes. I can’t see where it has not proven itself to this point.”

Council Member Wiseman’s “agin” vote is pretty much a given these days. Even still, I find her argument to be weak. I’ll be surprised if the program isn’t easily renewed, with hers being the sole dissenting vote.

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