Courtesy of the DOT
CHAMP truck (Courtesy of the DOT)

The Connecticut State Police Union is speaking out about the elimination of funding for a program they say keeps both motorists and police safe.

The Connecticut Highway Assistance Motorist Patrol or CHAMP  is a fleet of 15 specialized vehicles that roam the state’s busiest highways to provide free roadside assistance to help move disabled vehicles out of travel lanes, help a motorist change a tire, provide a jump start and help provide shelter for drivers waiting for a tow.

The program, which was started in 1996 and expanded in 1999, is funded in large part by the Federal Highway Administration, which covers 80 percent of the cost. The state typically covers the remaining 20 percent, but the 2017 budget Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed last week cuts the $641,000 in funding from the Department of Transportation’s budget.

“Countless motorists and state troopers have been spared from life-altering injuries thanks to the CHAMP program,” Andrew Matthews, a state police officer and president of the troopers’ union, said. “DOT service patrols don’t just reduce highway congestion, they save lives.”

However, the fate of the service patrols is still unclear.

“We are still reviewing implications of the budget for the agency, including any impacts to our CHAMP program,” the DOT said in a statement. “While it’s too early to specify what changes may occur, our goal is simple – to keep the program operating.”

The governor’s office was also unable to say what will happen to the program.

“Just like the households we represent, we have to live within our means and we have to be more efficient about spending,” Devon Puglia, a Malloy spokesman, said. “We’ve passed a budget that doesn’t raise taxes that will require everyone to be smarter about spending. Households don’t budget based on the dollars they wish they had – they budget based on the dollars they actually have. State government should do the same, and we will need to be more efficient while providing high levels of service.”

Matthews pointed out that savings from cutting the program will be offset by a “likely spike in workers compensation claims as more Troopers are injured” and more police cruisers will likely be damaged because they aren’t being blocked by the specialized DOT vehicles.

Matthews said that state Troopers will do their best to assist motorists as quickly and safely as possible if the program is eliminated, but that motorists should expect slower response times and more accidents because Troopers will be handling calls for service that would otherwise be handled by service patrols.

NBC was first to report about the elimination of the funding.