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States Closing Rest Areas to Save Cash

If you have to go while driving through some states, you'll have to go a longer distance to find a rest stop.

The recession is trickling down to travelers as states cut back on their public facilities to save money.

Virginia plans to shutter 19 of its 42 facilities by July 21, four of them along Interstate 95, a main travel corridor along the East Coast. Vermont, Maine, Louisiana and Colorado have closed rest stops in the past year.

"This was not an easy decision," says Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. "But we are facing this massive funding shortfall."

The department is saving $9 million a year by padlocking the facilities, he says. About 40 million people visited the state's rest areas last year.

"You're going to need a strong back and a strong bladder to get through Virginia now," says John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic. AAA is asking Gov. Tim Kaine to reconsider.

Roads are safer when tired motorists have somewhere to pull off, Townsend says, and rest stops provide security and sanitation.

Other states, including Arizona and Tennessee, are considering shutting rest areas, Townsend says.

"My fear is that this is going to multiply. It's like a contagion," he says.

Other states that closed facilities:

Vermont closed four of its 20 rest areas two months ago, saving $900,000 a year.

Maine closed two and contracted out the upkeep of five others to save $690,000. There are 48 left.

Colorado shut two of its 33 rest stops in June. Antiquated plumbing in the 1960s facilities caused flooding and sewage backups that would have cost $950,000 to repair, transportation department spokeswoman Stacey Stegman says.

Louisiana has closed 24 aging rest stops of out of 34 since 2000, saving $250,000 a year on each, says transportation department spokeswoman Amber Hebert.

Texas, by contrast, is upgrading its 98 rest stops and adding Internet kiosks and Wi-Fi access.

3 Responses »

  1. There are plenty of businesses at exist all along most major highways that would welcome thousands of new "potential" customers everyday. Even if only 5% of the 40 million Virginia rest stop visitors stopped in at those businesses and spent $1 each that would translate into approx $2.4 million is sales tax income to the State.

    • This is a public safety issue in that the rest areas, for the most part, are a safe place to pull over for a pit stop. Tourists do not know about the safety of the businesses that may exist the major highways. Personally, when I travel, I stop only at the rest areas or at gas stations because I want to get to my destination. I'm not interested in spending my money before I reach my destination.

      • Gas stations have rest rooms, so do Mac Donalds and just about every other facility I've ever visited at an exit.

        I like rest stops, but if it comes down to spending $9 million on schools or police or fire stations or healthcare versus $9 million on rest stops there just doesn't seem to be much of a contest.