Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration is gearing up to close the state’s traditional rest areas, including the Danbury information center on Interstate 84 that has been offering travelers a break since 1971.
The proposed state budget Malloy recently submitted to the General Assembly eliminates $1.1 million in funding for rest stops over the next two years by removing funding for 12 state workers who maintain the rest stops.
Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the governor’s plan calls for “complete closure of the buildings in the rest areas.” He said it’s not yet known if the parking lots will be gated to block entrance from the highway.
“It hasn’t been determined if there would be gates at the entrances, or whether parking would still be allowed or whether the port-o-lets would remain,” Everhart said. “I don’t think that will be known for certain until the General Assembly passes a budget and the governor has signed it.”
The seven rest areas — in Danbury, Southington, West Willington, East Willington, Wallingford, Middletown and North Stonington — have been in use for decades, providing rest for travelers and even picnic tables for a meal.
Faced with budget cuts, the DOT last fall closed the rest rooms and buildings within the rest areas to late night and overnight use. Welcome centers at rest areas in Danbury, West Willington and North Stonington were closed several years ago, ending a tradition of providing travelers with a state employee who could answer questions, show off local attractions and distribute pamphlets.
Portable toilets were installed after rest area hours were reduced to replace the closed indoor rest rooms, and complaints from users soon flowed into DOT. Newspapers published stories about upset visitors and the poor impression of the state the closed rest area building projected.
The Danbury rest stop is a scenic area, nestled behind rows of trees and highlighted by planted flowers.
State officials suggested the rest areas have become obsolete and said travel services are available at many points along the state’s highways.
“There are commercial services within a few miles of every state-operated rest area, including some commercial truck stops,” Everhart said.
The 12 rest area attendants who would be cut by the budget proposal do not interact with the public, Everhart said. The workers empty trash containers, keep the grounds clean and maintain the buildings, he said.
In its December budget proposal to Malloy, the DOT offered closing the rest areas as a cost-cutting option but warned there could be consequences, including vandalism.
Everhart said the rest area closure has no impact on the service centers along highways such as I-95 and the Merritt Parkway, where travelers can buy gas, food and other offerings. Those facilities are owned by the state but run by a private company.