Utah Highway Patrol troopers are taking steps not to run out of gas.
Budget restrictions and the recent surge in gas prices have forced the department to restrict the number of miles troopers can travel each day. Before the restrictions, troopers said they traveled as high as 200 miles in a day.Today, they are allotted only 100 miles per day.
"Some of us feel we're not serving the public the way we ought to," said one of several troopers throughout the state who agreed to talk to the Deseret News on the condition that names not be printed.
"Before the mileage restrictions I'd make three or four passes on my area," said another trooper. "Now, you can cover it maybe once."
Others said they are forced to park their cars along the highway and wait for speeding motorists. The automobiles slow down in certain areas and more tickets are issued, but troopers say they are less able to spot troubled motorists or highway impediments because they are not able to cover their assigned areas adequately.
"We're sitting a lot more, waiting for something to happen instead of being out there preventing it from happening," one trooper commented. "I sometimes need to run up the canyon, but I can't because I don't have the miles."
"You can't find the ones that are broken down as fast. If this (restriction) were to occur during the wintertime, you could have somebody freeze" before troopers spotted them, another said.
Others say productivity is what the department is sacrificing in order to save money.
"A lot of us are just staying central, closer to the office. We don't go way down south or up north," one trooper said.
"They limit us there (mileage) but still expect to keep the coverage high," another patrolman said.
"Instead of paying attention to what you're supposed to be doing, we're paying attention to our miles," said another.
UHP Assistant Superintendent Herb Katz insists that while the restriction was not a popular decision, it was a necessary one.
"The fact is that gas took an unexpected hike and we're not able to cope with it," he said. "We don't like it, but it's just a prudent thing to do so we don't go over our budget."
The budget allocates 60 cents per mile, but Katz said it costs the department 83 cents a mile to operate each vehicle. For an organization that puts on 9 million miles each year, "that's a big impact on us," he said.
Katz said the department's only options were to either cut back on mileage or furlough people. A cutback in mileage was the "least worst decision" and one that has been implemented in past years as well.
Troopers are no longer allowed to drive the vehicles while they are off duty. As a result, fewer motorists are aided, since the state vehicles were to be used on the condition that troopers would stop and assist motorists who needed help.
Katz said the new fiscal year begins July 1, and the mileage restriction will likely be lifted then.
Troopers said that in emergencies they are allowed to travel over the allotted 100 miles, but say they are then asked to make up the difference during the rest of the week.