3 of 4 Area Rest Stops Closing Tonight

Jeremy Aldrich -- July 20th, 2009

Only one of the nearest four rest stops to the north and south of Harrisonburg along I-81 will be open tomorrow.  According to the VDOT website, the New Market rest area on southbound I-81 as well as those on both north- and southbound I-81 at Mt. Syndey are slated to be closed indefinitely.

VDOT spokesman Jeffrey Caldwell told the Washington Post that when choosing which of the state’s 42 state-funded rest areas to close, “One of the criteria we used in closing facilities was whether they were in an urban area, where there were McDonald’s and gas stations at the interchanges.”

The move is expected to save $9 million statewide, and will result in about 1000 employees being laid off.  Both major gubernatorial candidates have said they would reopen the rest stops if elected, and appear to be in a bit of a contest to see which one opposes the closures most.

42 Responses to “3 of 4 Area Rest Stops Closing Tonight”

  1. I’m curious how “small-government conservatives” justify opposing this move.

  2. Justin says:

    I think this makes perfect sense. Especially since I’ve heard of really sketchy encounters from women stopping at rest stops by themselves.

    I much prefer a gas station or restaurant (Chick Fil A or some other more clean fast food restaurant) than a dimly lit rest stop.

  3. Renee says:

    My family always used rest stops instead of restaurants on long trips because of the quick on and off (and the lack of french fries and ice cream for us kids to beg for).

    I rarely use them these days, but on the long rural stretches where the restaurants on the exits are closed after 11pm, it is nice to have a place for emergency stops. Also, I always see them full of truckers – are they still going to let them park there? If not, where will all those trucks park so their drivers can sleep?

    I’m sure the giant truck stops are happy about this.

    I wonder how they decided which to close?

  4. BANDIT says:

    Let’s see…We live in Virginia so, I doubt we would be using our own rest stops…well, very, very, little anyway.
    Other than loosing jobs to those who work there, do you really care?

  5. megan says:

    I liked using the rest stops. It’s very convenient when traveling with kids. As Renee already pointed out, not icecream and french fries to temp. On the few occasions we traveled to DC, Richmond, or the beach we always used them. Always.

    I think we all see the necessity to cut expenses but don’t like to actually see services disappear. I will make do just fine without the rest stops, but I do feel badly for those laid off and will be happy when finances improve enough to reopen the stops.

  6. Barbara says:

    I think anyone who uses 81 ought to be concerned about the closing of rest stops. Perhaps none of you travel overnight, but many do. Very, very, few gas stations or fast food joints are open all night. By law, gas stations that advertise on the interstates only have to be open sixteen out of twenty-four hours. If the rest stops were better lit, they’d be in use more than they are. As it stands now, they are creepy.

    But my concern is even more for the truckers. They are compelled to strictly follow laws governing how many hours they drive in a day, and in a week. They don’t have the luxury of pulling into a side street or parking lot to sleep. Unless you’ve driven one, you don’t realize the lack of mobility a driver has in a rig. Up and down 81, with all the heavy truck traffic, the number of full service truck stops with adequate parking, are few and far between. So what is a trucker supposed to do? They have been parking in the Mt. Sidney rest stop because it is necessary – not because it is a good solution. I never realized how hard trucking is until a family member became a trucker. It gave me a new respect for the people doing that for a living.

  7. I would like to see the 24-hour convenience stores better advertised from the interstate.

    And I’d also like to see more information on how using rail could get more trucks off the interstates, increasing safety on the road and reducing the need for so many truck parking areas.

  8. Lowell Fulk says:

    Everyone who speaks to the great value of rest stops does so very eloquently… None of you however speak to what you would be willing to contribute to their existence and operating expense.

    Everything has a cost… How do we address this cost?

    Would you rather neglect the safety of bridges to preserve your convenience of a place to pee?

    Would you, do you, recommend that the truckers from out of state be given the benefit of your tax money so they can sleep? At no cost to them?

    Again, everything has a cost, the rest stops presented for closing have an evident cost of some nine million dollars per year…

    How do you propose to meet that expense?

  9. Renee says:

    Lowell, If the rest stops were well lit, clean, and modern (similar to the Sheetz in Haymarket I usually stop at on the way up to Northern VA) I think more people would use them at night.

    I would be willing to either buy something from vending or pay a small fee (25 cents or less) to use these safe, clean, restrooms. Or, some services could be offered, such as windshield cleaning or pay car washes, to raise funds.

    What I’m most worried about is the same thing I said before and that Barbara mentioned above – there are few safe places to stop that are open all night, especially in rural stretches.

  10. Greg Marrow says:

    One major concern that I have, that has not been discussed in the media although I’ve brought it up, is the negative impact that rest area closures will have on the visually impaired’s right to make an independent living. The federal Randolph-Sheppard Act provides for the blind and visually impaired to have priority in providing vending services on federal property, including interstates. By one estimate, 70% of the vending services in VA on the highways is provided by the blind and visually impaired. As a community, are we OK with that?

  11. BANDIT says:

    OK Lowell,
    How about “Toll Rest Stops?”…as you pull into the rest area, there could be a toll machine, flip a quarter in and go…

  12. Karl says:

    Here’s a test: Drive south on I-81 at 11:30pm. Get off at the first Harrisonburg exit. Drive south on the oh so well lit Route 11 and tell me how many MILES you must go before finding a place to eat, use the rest room or even get gas. The answer to the last one isn’t as easy as it seems.

    Lowell, Kaine just announced a couple billion stimulus bucks will fund all sorts of bridge work up and down the Commonwealth. I thought fear mongering was a Republican thing. I usually agree with you, but I just can’t this time.

    Making me nuts is that VDOT is ripping out electrical and other stuff from the closed rest stops. Knowing that both candidates for governor plan to re-open them, this is VDOT sending us an extra bill to prove a point. Pierce Homer should be fired immediately.

  13. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Karl, you raise an interesting point. You’re right that off of exit 251 there isn’t a 24-hour gas station. But off the other 3 Harrisonburg exits there are. Would it be cheaper to label the 24-hour places on interstate signage, or reopen the public restrooms? I mean, seriously, people are acting like the rest stops have the only bathrooms in the whole state.

    What keeps getting me about this is the people who are so concerned about “wasteful government spending” and that someone else is getting something from the government that they don’t deserve, and then turning around and acting like it’s the taxpayer’s responsibility to provide a free place for you to pee while you’re driving around on the free roads.

    I wish the state had enough money to keep the rest stops open. It doesn’t.

  14. Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

    Help me out here: I believe safe and well maintained roads, and bridges are the core mission of VDOT, and that restrooms, parking places and cold drinks are not.

    If Virginia had enough tax revenues to pay for both, great. Otherwise we go mission critical.

  15. Emmy says:

    The biggest concern I have with the closure of these rest stops is the truck drivers. I doesn’t make much difference to me if they are available to stop at, because I am in a car and will find another place to go. But I can promise that the first time someone is killed on the interstate because a truck driver had to go too far to find a safe place to pull over and rest, those in favor of closing them will sing another tune.

    They need to be open and I’m willing to pay to have them there, whether it be per use or in my taxes.

  16. Lowell Fulk says:

    I’m not meaning to monger fear Karl, the money for bridges is just that, money for bridges, and I think it’s project specific. Each project must be approved. (my understanding anyway) And it’s trying to play catch up to an overwhelming backlog of deferred maintenance.

    We’ve got to adjust the way we do business, we have no choice.

    I think Renee and Bandit have made some suggestions well worth considering. Does anyone have an idea how many vehicles stop at a given stop on an average day?

  17. Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

    Emmy, I suspect that truckers will continue to do what they do now – park on the exit ramps, and in the truckstops.

    And I expect to see a number of the closed truckstops re-open to offer parking.

  18. Emmy says:

    Perhaps, but when I do travel I see a large number of trucks in the rest areas.

  19. zen says:

    As someone who criss-crosses the state (81, 66, 64) nearly every other week, I am sad to see the rest stops close as well. As others have mentioned these rest stops make a huge difference when traveling with children. Stopping at random gas stations is a real gamble when one seeks a clean, changing station for a baby.

    But I do understand the decision from a budgetary point of view. I really love the rail idea, for many other reasons, but add this to the list of benefits as well.

  20. Barnabas says:

    Rest stops are a good thing.
    9 million would fix how many bridges? And we’re already getting billions for that so what is another 9 million really gonna help.
    In an age where we are trying to become more ‘green’ closing the rest stops is a turn in the opposite direction.
    Rest areas have places to walk your pets. I remember stopping at rest ares to eat the sandwhiches we had packed for longer trips and getting out to run in the grass. What good is it to have a car that doesn’t require fuel stops if we’re going to be forced back to gas station just to use the bathroom. And once we’re there we’ll be told that they are for paying customers only. I was responsible I packed my lunch and bought a pack of drinks so I wouldn’t have to pay $2.25 for a 20 ounce drink now I have to buy one just to use the bathroom. Well I geuss I’ll be stopping to piss on all our wonderful bridges.

  21. Renee says:

    Wait, they’re tearing out the electrical? What’s the point of that?

    Karl is right, if both candidates are promising to reopen the rest stops, someone with common sense needs to step in and prevent the current expense (they have to pay someone to tear it out) and future expense (of materials and labor to put it back in) that requires. Is it some liability to leave it in even if the power is shut off?

    If they’re afraid someone’s going to steal the copper or something, let them – it’s free labor to do what they’re paying for!

  22. Renee says:

    Good points, Barnabas!

  23. BANDIT says:

    In my travels I have noticed that a lot of other states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio to name a few have rest areas that are truly rest areas. It’s a large plaza with a gas station and a building that houses multiple fast food restaurants, rest
    rooms and information about the part of the state you are in.
    They are well lit and kept clean. The vendors pay rent just like at a strip mall. Plus, there are areas for overnight parking for cars and trucks. They are always very busy! Every time I travel I wonder why Virginia doesn’t do rest areas like that.

  24. We’re prohibited by federal law from having privatized rest areas. Only those that already existed before a certain date (1960 I think) are allowed on roads that receive federal highway funds. They tried to get an exception for that law through Congress last week, but it failed.

  25. BANDIT says:

    Well that certainly sounds like Congress. Lets not pass something that could be a win-win situation for the state and the motorist.

    Thanks for the answer Jeremy.

  26. Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

    Two wars, ruined economy, busted health care, medicare in tatters, unsustainable national energy policy, bankrupt transportation funding …and we want our legislators to save the rest areas, chop, chop! America is screwed stupid.

  27. Emmy says:

    Bubby, your point is well taken and I generally agree with things you say. But, that’s like telling someone with the flu “At least you don’t have cancer”. Sure, there are bigger problems in the world, but that doesn’t make this just go away.

  28. Josh says:

    If you really have to go, it is in fact the most pressing problem in your universe, the rest of that stuff be damned.

    Expect to see more people on the side of the road.

  29. BANDIT says:

    …well, I guess the next BEST option is to “privatize” them….So, there ya go….

  30. Brooke says:

    Actually, I believe I just read somewhere that there’s some part of VA law or constitution that prevents the rest stops from being privatized.

  31. BANDIT says:

    …just google “make money with rest stops” and you will see that VDOT wants to privatize the rest areas…

  32. Karl says:

    Renee, the release we got from VDOT said they were going to pull that stuff out for use in the rest stops that are staying open.

    So the state has better things to do than provide restrooms and cold drinks…are we talking about the same outfit that’s in the business of selling alcohol? You have to be kidding. Follow the logic and we’ll be closing state parks since Virginia’s core duty isn’t to give us a place to play.

    Jeremy provided a great boil down of the privatization issue. A question I have failed to ask is why did someone in our congressional delegation just last week get around to asking for an amendment?

  33. Barbara says:

    I’ve already observed more people using the side of the road — some without much discretion.

  34. Lowell Fulk says:

    Karl,

    Do you have any type of list relating what different services have been reduced or cut from VDOT’s budget this year?

  35. Karl says:

    No Lowell, but I bet I could get a decent idea from VDOT. In the face of stiff criticism they have been very open and available to the media.

    I do know that the residency office closings and less mowing are some of the reductions. There’s obviously more, but those are the ones I remember off the top of my head. I guess you could also count the projects that had been slated for construction that will no longer be built…and there were a stupefying number of those.

  36. JGFitzgerald says:

    VDOT budget, past two years. This year’s budget. As always, caution is urged when attempting to take a budget with nine or more digits and pull out one or two figures that make a point. You might need more digits. (Or, don’t try this at home.)

  37. Thanh says:

    This is an interesting article I found/read in GOOD magazine about the rest stops across the country with some focus on Viriginia’s closing/closed rest stops, http://www.good.is/post/rest-stops-rip/.

    “Across the country, rest areas like this one have been losing a long-fought battle to commercial alternatives, super-sized stops with eight blends of caffeine, free wifi, burgers, and gas. Traditional rest areas cost money to staff and maintain, and aside from the odd vending machine, don’t generate any direct revenue…”

    “Last year, Louisiana closed 24 of its 34 stops, and Vermont has already shuttered four this year. In April, Wisconsin stopped staffing its welcome centers. South Carolina, meanwhile, is closing its stops two days a week (“budget cuts” say the signs on locked doors) and North Carolina one day a week (“budget shortfalls”).”

    “… What the interstate system cost us through efficiency—bypassing Main Streets and unique landscapes in the name of speed—rest areas have tried to give back: a sense of place….”

    “Rest stops are a record of the culture of our transportation history, of how the Interstate system changed the whole dynamic of our country dramatically.”

    “She seems to understand, as welcome center employees intuitively do, that sometimes we don’t need directions to anywhere, we don’t even need to go to the bathroom; what we need is an excuse to get out of our cars, to talk to another person for the first time in hours about snakes or snow storms or the relative merits of regional rest area architecture.”

  38. According to this DNR story, the closures are a good thing. What I don’t quite understand is the apparent impact on the Liberty station at the Broadway exit. That station is a few miles south of a rest area that is still operational.

  39. Gabe says:

    Virginia is a state that gains substantial revenue from tourism, and people are going to have a hard time getting to those destinations without travelling on our interstates. And for anyone who has taken a roadtrip and has needed a place to stop to change drivers or walk around or drink water (all of which are essential to keeping up ones awareness on the road) rest areas are invaluable. And when it comes to other places to stop sometimes it’s in those 15 to 30 minutes between 24 hour stations that you realize how much you need to stop. A state that relies on having great roads for visitors to see so many great locations should know better than to close rest areas as one of the first measures of budget cutting.

  40. Mark DeBusk says:

    The town of Blacksburg is planning on putting in traffic circle that in my opinion is unnecessary. The cost is 11 to 12 million. I would give up this project to fund the rest stops for some period of time. Any more projects out there that may not be completely needed. One final question. Is it really possible to build an entire nation in a single century? From scratch.

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