Rest Areas Reopening

Jeremy Aldrich -- February 17th, 2010

Travelers along Interstate 81 and other state highways will find it easier to take a pit stop soon, as government-run rest stops around the state reopen in coming weeks. Last summer, many of the states’s rest areas were closed in response to the state budget crisis, including three of the four nearby rest stops. The closures became a campaign issue as both candidates promised to reopen the rest areas quickly if elected. Soon after taking office, Governor McDonnell convinced the Commonwealth Transportation board to move $3 million from VDOT’s maintenance reserve fund to reopen the rest areas until the end of this fiscal year in June. The southbound rest area in New Market is officially reopening today, and the two stops at Mount Sidney will reopen in coming weeks.

Local legislators are applauding the change, saying that rest stops improve safety and make the state more attractive to tourists.

Future funding for the rest stops is up in the air. The budget fix by the CTB only pays for things through June, and the state budget is facing a massive shortfall that might make it difficult to find money for the next fiscal year. During the gubernatorial campaign, McDonnell said he would try to save money on rest stops by using work-release prisoners to clean up the facilities, encourage “Adopt a Rest Stop” programs, and try to find money elsewhere in the CTB budget. However, none of those options have been finalized as workable solutions.

When the topic comes up, many people suggest privatizing the rest stops to provide the convenience without any cost to state government. Such a move would be illegal under federal interstate law, and attempts to grant Virginia a waiver were stymied in Congress last year. At the time, Virginia Governor Kaine blamed a powerful Virginia Congressman, Rep. Eric Cantor, for working to defeat the waiver. Cantor denied the accusation.

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41 Responses to “Rest Areas Reopening”

  1. Lowell Fulk says:

    Boy getting the rest stops back open makes me feel a whole lot better. Taking money from the maintenance fund makes me feel better yet. This however, should make everyone feel really good about the coming year(s).

  2. Josh says:

    I’d rather see our rest areas turn into something like the privatized “service plazas” of the Pennsylvania turnpike than operate with monies we don’t have to spare.

  3. Jamie Smith says:

    I’m so happy. Maybe with this major issue out of the way, the Governor and the General Assembly can concentrate on the budget!

  4. Emmy says:

    I agree Lowell. Let’s hack away money from the schools and go backward with regard to GLBT rights…but we’ve got our rest areas back.

  5. Josh,

    I agree, but it is my understanding that there is a federal law that states that if a state did not engage in such a privatization prior to some date in the past, it can no longer be done. This strikes me as a ridiculous law, and I think it would be a good thing if our Senators and Congresspeople were to work on getting an exception for VA to this, if not just repealilng the whole darned stupid law.

  6. Olivia says:

    Who in their right mind would choose to fund rest areas over our schools?

    There are gas stations and fast food restaurants with equally acceptable bathroom facilites for travelers to use.

  7. Gene Hart says:

    So-called privatization and commercialization of our interstate rest areas is not going to happen and probably shouldn’t happen. It isn’t going to happen because it requires federal approval that has previously been requested and denied (with opposition from members of both parties at the federal level). How many times must we be told “no” before we move on to more realistic funding options?

    As for why it would be a bad thing: because commercialization was barred, over many years numerous businesses (often small, local businesses) have bought properties and set up shops just off our interstate exits. These businesses serve the interstate travelers and those that never dare venture onto the mayhem that is 81; they generate significant taxes; and, they employee lots of locals in the off-interstate communities. If we move to a model based on less numerous, consolidated service station/convenience store/fast food interstate facilities it is likely that those existing businesses will be at risk. With the right’s continuing “Kelo”/takings concerns I cannot understand why this sort of small business destruction would be put forward as a legitimate solution to part of our on-going transportation funding crisis.

    Remember, the real problem is the overall funding problem for our transportation system; the rest areas are a symptom (and perhaps a distraction) of the problem, they are not the core and unresolved and unaddressed issue.

  8. Yes, if you click on the link from the word “illegal” in the post, you will see that service plazas which existed before 1960 were allowed to continue, but new ones can’t be built.

  9. Professor Rosser,

    I would if you would apply to your characterization that if rest areas weren’t privatized before a certain date as being “ridiculous” to Social Security, which certain types of entities were allowed to opt out of in favor of private retirement funds…e.g., Galveston, Texas?

    Would you be in favor of entities being allowed to opt out of Social Security now, after the arbitrary date has long past?

    For the record, it is obscene that McDonnell is choosing to open rest areas while cutting education funding…but then, I didn’t vote for the idiot. (None of the Above still seems like a great choice)

  10. Dave: You can opt-out of social security right now…you just have to earn wages in excess of $90K/yr. I laugh everytime some rich conservative tries to sell privatized social security to a nodding gaggle of working joes. Did you know that a pig can actually eat itself to death?

    But good news! When Governor Haircut introduces The Utah Education Funding Solution…the kids can get a job flipping burgers at the State rest areas. Education is for people who need to understand stuff, far too dangerous.

  11. Emmy says:

    “For the record, it is obscene that McDonnell is choosing to open rest areas while cutting education funding…”

    Dave, you know we never agree, but on this we do.

    I posted something similar on Facebook today and got told I wasn’t giving him enough time in office and I just needed to give him a chance. Well, I can do that, but this isn’t winning him any points in my book.

  12. Renee says:

    I’m not surprised McDonnell’s cutting deep into education – I saw this coming – but it really really bothers me that he considers K-12 schools as something that has any extra fat to cut out.

    But the rest stops, hey, that was a clear campaign point, so he’s got to carry through with the plan to say he kept his word.

    Didn’t they strip out the copper wiring and appliances when they closed the rest stops? Did they sell it? Are they re-using it? I’m curious how much it’s going to cost them to re-open them vs. how much it would have cost to keep them open all along. Also, wondering what are the chances that they’ll stay open long-term as the budget gets tighter, now that Bob’s making sure he can say he reopened them.

    Overall, I’m just really bothered that he’s cutting funding to schools.

  13. Renee says:

    Also, I agree with Josh on the privatized rest stops.

  14. Karl says:

    The lack of rest area space was a very big problem during the recent snow storms with VDOT closing several exits of the highway to keep trucks from trying to access overflowing truck stops. Of course deaths on the highway and those evil truckers having to keep going on roads in severe condition really are just minor inconveniences. Their deaths will actually spur the economy as funeral homes and florists could rake in the cash. Then again, it’s usually the people in the cars they crash into that die. Oh well, no biggie.

    You could play the fund this, don’t fund that game all day, but Kaine threw major money down the toilet acquiring a new state park in Albemarle County. It was a terrible example of personal agenda getting in the way of fiscal responsibility. Keep in mind the property was available since economic factors nixed a proposed housing development. The private sector didn’t have enough money, but I guess the taxpayers did…or perhaps it was the local school systems that had the extra cash.

  15. BANDIT says:

    What does Kaine have to do with Bob’s decision to open the rest stops? If Bob’s priorities are rest stops, we could be in BIG trouble down the road…I think keeping people working and school budgets would be a bigger priority but, I’m not the governor. We just might have another “Jim Gilmore” for governor…cha ching!!!

  16. Lowell Fulk says:

    Good call on the comparison to Gilmore. One of Mr. McDonnell’s first actions as Governor has been to take funding from almost 100 Virginia school districts to send to Northern Virginia. Sound familiar? It’s what Gilmore did with his car tax “repeal.”

  17. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Karl, I hadn’t heard about the park acquisition. It certainly does seem like a strange budgetary choice given the circumstances in recent months.

    For me, the real issue here is an unwillingness to raise revenue for the state, even when it means letting important programs go by the wayside. Kaine made some painful cuts, but he didn’t go as far as McDonnell since Kaine also proposed raising new revenue through new fees and taxes. Many of these programs being cut, like education, children’s health insurance, halfway houses, and mental health treatment options end up saving money down the road by avoiding expenses in public safety and health care. Not to mention the lowered future tax revenue when children are held back from reaching their full potential. These cuts do not demonstrate an investment mindset and will be a long-term loss for the Commonwealth.

  18. Emmy says:

    I’m with Lowell on this one.

    Wow Karl.

    You honestly think that anyone wants truckers to die because they have no place to stop? I think you need to go back and read the comments most of us had when the decision to close them was made. But, the point is, if the money has to come from somewhere to have them reopened, why does the lion’s share have to come from schools and programs that also keep people alive?

  19. More to the point, with McDonnell directing VDOT to move $3 million from their maintenance account to re-open the rest stops and the movement of maintenance account monies to snow removal costs incurred by VDOT, I wonder how McDonnell is planning to pay for road maintenance over the next two years.

  20. Emmy, the $3 million used to reopen the rest stops was transferred from VDOT’s maintenance funds, as I just wrote.

  21. Jamie Smith says:

    Speaking of funding, how is JMU able to continue to buy up property (Rockingham Co-op) when the state budget is in such a mess?

  22. Gene,

    I agree that changing the federal law will not happen and that changing it would upset some established interests. But maybe it should never have been passed back in 1960.


    I totally disagree with you on the social security issue, but this is not the time or place to argue that one. However, there is no inconistency in arguing that some things should be privatized while others should not be, unless one is an anarcho-capitalist, which I do not think you are. Are you for privatizing the city police? No? How terribly inconsistent of you!

  23. Karl says:

    Bandit, The comparison makes sense because Kaine was offering a 1.2 billion dollar cut to education while spending much more money on new park land than money McDonnell is spending on rest areas. Basically both made huge cuts to education and still went forward with campaign promises when common sense might tell you to do otherwise. I just think Kaine’s was a little more foolish. I do wonder why VDOT told Kaine they had no money, but when McDonnell asked they had cash to move from another fund.

    Maybe my sarcasm was a bit much, but the rest areas are a major public safety issue IMO. We all know that truck traffic is thick on 81 and closing them causes issues in good and bad weather. Folks in this thread seem to be downplaying what the rest areas really mean to I-81 safety. You all were simply treated to one of the posts I write everyday and smartly decide not to hit submit on :)

  24. I thought that the Biscuit Run State Park purchase was a bargain. 1,200 acres, $9.8 M, purchased per the voter’s request with conservation bonds and hey, stimulus dollars! I agreed with Kaine’s campaign promise to reach 400,000 acres of land in open space, as do most Valley voters.

    And the $9.8 million is almost exactly the savings captured by closing the stupid rest areas.

  25. Karl says:

    So Bubby, did the federal cash include funding for all the infrastructure that will be needed? (I seriously don’t know). You can’t just slap up a poster board with Crayon and call it a state park. The land is just the beginning.

    I don’t normally go in for conspiracy theory type stuff, but it is a bit odd that McDonnell is closing five state parks as part of his cuts. I hope these are honest cuts and not just a poke at the former Governor.

  26. Actually, I would be in favor of privatizing law enforcement, most Libertarians would be.

  27. Lowell Fulk says:

    ‘Economic benefit’

    “I think this is going to be a very good recreational and economic benefit to Albemarle County,” said Bryant. “The 2009 figures for the revenue generated from all state parks show they created about $180 million in positive economic impact to localities.”

    The state funding to purchase the property is coming from two sources. According to Bryant, $5 million is left over from a 2002 voter-approved bond issue for the purchase of state park lands. The balance of $4.8 million is federal transportation enhancement funds.

    “The federal government gives VDOT funding each year for enhancement projects like land acquisition and beautification,” said Bryant.

    Both the Federal Highway Administration and the Commonwealth Transportation Board have already approved the use of funds for the purchase.

  28. Buying a park with transportation enhancement funds doesn’t sound like it would enhance transportation to me.

  29. Hi Karl;
    Could you name a Virginia State Park that was fully funded at inception? By my recollection; first you buy, then you build out.

  30. Jamie Smith says:

    Hungry Mother and Douthat are two parks that were built by CC Camp labor during the depression. Pretty well funded by President Roosevelt, I believe.

  31. Hungry Mother WAS a CC camp. Douthat began as donated land, built by CC labor, and was further enlarged by the General Assembly. I’ve seen pics from the era and the land had been raped and denuded.

  32. Dave,
    Would you like privatized judges? How about privatized soldiers? You are a big fan of our wildly overpaid Blackhawk mercenaries who mess up and damage the national security?

  33. seth says:

    i’m assuming you meant to say blackwater….

  34. Nothing wrong with private judges…in many cases, such judges acts as mediators…it’s general called alternative dispute resolution…in many cases, like child support, or anything involving the state as a party, I think I’d much rather have a private judge who isn’t being compensated, in whole or in part, by monies which could be ordered paid by the state judge.

    As you can see by this link, , former government judges are still doing the same thing “privately” paid.

    The pictured Judge is former 26th District Circuit Court Judge John J. McGrath.

  35. Seth,

    Yes. (Now I will probably hear complaints about what great patriots all those Blackwater folks are… )

  36. Lowell Fulk says:

    Oh Black Water, Keep on rolling,
    Mississippi Moon won’t you keep on shining on me?

  37. Briggman,

    Child custody cases are one thing. But how about cases involving big corporations that can buy a judge? Are you kidding? I suspect you have not read libertarian lit. The judiciary is the one thing that is held on to. Need that even handed custodian of contracts and property rights? Only the most far-gone anarchists are ready to let that go. Do you really want contract enforcement to be in the hands of some bought-out schmuck? Just how naive are you, Dave?

  38. Rosser,

    You think state judges aren’t bought?

    They’re members of the same bar associations as are the attorneys who appear before them.

    The only way Virginia will ever get fair judges are when the people, and not the legislators, elect them.

    Anarchists and private judges, huh? I’m sure many of our Republican and Democrat legislators who are practicing bar car members have all appeared before a private judiciary.

    The last thing I am is naive…which is why I didn’t vote for Obama….Oh. That would put me in the class of ignorant.

  39. And Rosser,

    I hope you teach whatever subject you teach better than you either try to second guess or try to tell me, a Libertarian, what Libertarian policy is.

    Many of the state LP Platforms contain the following language, or wording very similar:

    “Private adjudication of disputes by mutually acceptable judges or mediators should be encouraged.”

    MUTUALLY acceptable…you do know what that means, right?

  40. Dave,

    Oh, but the problem is that when things get rough, there is no judge who is “mutually acceptable.” That is when the state needs to step in. I am all for mediation done by mutually acceptable persons, but I have lived long enough to see divorces and child custody cases where the warfare was so bad that any kind of “mutual agreement” on anything was totally out of the question.

    And, of course, the real bottom line is criminal trials. You want private judges to deal with such matters? Actually, this is probably the issue that separates standard libertarians from anacho-capitalist libertarians. If you are the latter, fine, but you are in the minority among libertarians.

    Oh, and if you are electing judges, then they are employees of the people through the state, not “private judges.” The point here is a state function, and it looks like you approve of state-employed judges, only with the caveat that they be elected rather than appointed.

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