Re: Budget Woes Spell Doom for Highway Rest Areas

Not surprising in the least that this is happening. Vermont closed a
bunch this year. Louisiana closed most of theirs recently.

Rest areas are a burden on state highway departments, because they
don't generate any revenue. Highway departments, in lean times, are
working on their core mission of providing pavement and signals, etc.,
with "no frills". I wish that this wouldn't happen, because I feel
that rest areas are an important safety feature of our highways. But
it is what it is.

In Virginia, I'm familiar with I-95, I-64, I-66, and I-85. Here's my
take. On I-95, the rest areas near Ladysmith will close. There are
truck stops or 24 hour gas stations at every interchange between
Richmond and Fredericksburg except for one or two that I'm not sure
about (110 and 89). I know the rest of the interchanges have
something. The Dale City car rest areas will close. It is in a
heavily urbanized area though, and there is just about any service you
can imagine off Exits 158, 152, and 143 nearby. Plus, I haven't seen
the issue of cars being allowed to use the current truck-only rest
areas that are not being closed. This would make more logical sense,
to consolidate the areas rather than maintain two sets. On I-85,
things could get a little dicey, as there isn't really that much
between Petersburg and South Hill. Petersburg itself is not a nice
area, so that essentially leaves a gap between Colonial Heights and
South Hill where there are only small gas stations at interchanges.
On I-66, the rest areas are in a heavily urbanized area, and there is
just about any service imaginable off of Exit 47 nearby. On I-64,
only the set of rest areas just west of Richmond are closing, and that
is in the heart of suburbia, with Short Pump being a very well
developed area. So really, the only area where I would have concerns
finding a place to stop is on I-85, but that stretch isn't too long
since it is less than an hour drive between Petersburg and South

I think Virginia is making the right decision in closing some
areas....but I think they are closing way too many. On I-85 between
Petersburg and North Carolina, there were 3 pairs of rest areas
(counting the SB NC Welcome Center as part of the southernmost pair)
in a little over 50 miles. Same with southbound I-95 between DC and
Richmond...3 in 50 miles between Dale City and Ladysmith.

Many states have wanted to privatize rest areas to get some revenue
from them. No doubt, if left up to the states, this would have
happened by now, as the truck stop industry would have to lobby all
the states simultaneously. Because they only have to lobby the Feds
to keep an existing law in place, they have been extremely successful
in doing so. The truck stop industry feels that any on-highway
business would have an unfair advantage over interchange businesses.
I personally support keeping the ban in place, because this could
easily become a slippery slope. We say that only essential motorist
services would be provided at the privatized rest areas, but in the
past decade, we have seen the definition of "essential motorist
services" (in terms of the Specific Service Sign program) expand from
gas, food, camping, and lodging to include attractions, 24-hour
pharmacies, and right now some groups are lobbying Congress to allow a
"Retail" category as well. Once you let the cat out of the bag, what
is to stop every single fast food chain, gas station, and big box
store from opening on the interstates and signing themselves as a
"Service Area"?

What I do support is expansion of the "Interstate Oasis" program that
was in SAFETEA-LU. Curently only 2 states participate...Utah, and to
a much lesser extent, Vermont. What they have done is formed public-
private partnerships with interchange businesses, and the state signs
the interchange as a "Rest Exit", "Rest Stop" or "Oasis" with signs
pointing to the business. The business must allow 24 hour access to
their rest rooms with "no purchase necessary", must be located within
a reasonable distance of the interchange (either 1 mile or half mile,
can't remember), and must provide some form of service to the driver.
For every customer that stops in, takes a leak, and leaves, there are
others who will buy something that they might not have otherwise
bought, so it is a win-win for the business, and worth it for them to
pay the fees to participate. Utah has done this on I-15, and whereas
before, the state had to pay for one rest area every 50 or 100 miles,
now the business pays the state, and there are many more "Rest Exits"
than there were Rest Areas. win-win for the taxpaying motorist.

I would like to see states that do massive Rest Area closures follow
Utah's example. Problem is, most states have never heard of the
program before. When the time is right and the opportunity presents
itself, I'd like to have a discussion with someone high-up at VDOT
about doing this in Virginia, if the rest areas are really to be
closed long term. In the meantime, I have my favorite off-highway
stop locations that I'll continue to utilize.

On Jul 3, 10:41 am, zorba <jimo...@xxxxxxx> wrote:
As millions of Americans take to the road for the holiday weekend, a
humble highway fixture is under attack.

Later this month, cash-strapped Virginia plans to barricade entrances
and switch off the plumbing and electricity at nearly half its highway
rest areas. Other states also are lowering budgetary axes on the
public pit stops that have lined the interstate highway system since
its creation in 1956.