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Virginia hopes to reopen rest stops

Posted on : 14-07-2009 | By : FlatBrokeTruckn | In : Virginia Rest areas, truck driver Industry

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It’s a long shot, but Virginia officials are hoping that they will be able to find a way to reopen 19 closed rest stops on the state’s interstate highways in a couple of years.

The state is going to mothball until at least 2011 the 18 rest areas and one welcome center slated for closure and eventual demolition because of budget cutbacks.

“We want to wait till we exhaust all options on commercialization [of the rest areas] before we make the decision to get rid of all of them,“ said Jeff Caldwell, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

However, right now federal law prohibits the commercialization of rest areas along interstate highways, except for placing vending machines in rest stops, according to Cathy St. Denis, a Federal Highway Administration spokeswoman. Facilities established before 1960 are exceptions to the law.

The rest stops’ primary service is free public toilets. They also provide a place for truckers to nap, tourists to pick up brochures for attractions, families to picnic, and dogs to relieve themselves.

VDOT will be putting the 19 closed stops into mothballs — stripping out useful items, turning off utilities, draining the plumbing, boarding up the buildings, and putting up steel gates — at an estimated cost of $570,000, Caldwell said.

The 18 rest areas are to be closed July 21 and the I-66 West Welcome Center at Manassas on Sept. 16.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board has cut the state’s six-year transportation program by $2.6 billion to make up for recession-driven revenue shortfalls.

Closing the rest stops is part of the state Transportation Department’s plan to make ends meet this year and should save about $8.6 million, officials said.

Putting the soon-to-be closed highway rest stops back in operation eventually “would be our hope,“ state Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer said Monday. “But absent a change in federal law or an infusion of transportation funding, that’s not likely.“

The state’s tourism industry wants to give it a try.
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