Over the last year, states such as Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maine and Vermont have shuttered their state-run highway rest areas to help close budget deficits. Virginia closed 19 rest stops in 2009 under then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D) but has reopened them since Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) took office in January.
Kaine also worked with the state's congressional delegation in a failed attempt to allow Virginia to commercialize its rest stops. The current surface transportation law bans interstate rest areas built after 1960 from offering commercial services like food and fuel. In February, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) wrote to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging that the commercialization ban be dropped. Other states, including Georgia and New Jersey, have also been pushing the idea recently.
States argue that commercializing rest stops would allow them to raise revenues while keeping open rest areas that drivers and long-haul truckers depend on. Communities and businesses located off the interstate that serve highway motorists respond that food and fuel operations at rest stops constitute unfair competition and would cause them significant economic losses.
As part of the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization, should the law be amended to allow states to offer commercial services at highway rest areas? Which approach -- current law or commercialization -- best serves highway users?