Virginia Closes 18 Rest Stops

State Eases Parking Restrictions
By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the July 27 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Virginia Department of Transportation closed 18 rest stops last week, despite an effort by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) to amend federal law to allow the state to commercialize the rest areas.

The closures, originally an-nounced earlier this year, went into effect July 21, according to VDOT, but trucking officials in the state told Transport Topics that closing the rest stops has not yet had a significant effect on truckers.

VDOT said in a statement it was making changes to the state’s truck parking restrictions at rest stops to mitigate the effects of the closures, which would eliminate 227 truck parking spaces in rest areas along Interstates 64, 66, 81, 85 and 95.

“The agency will remove a number of ‘no parking’ signs at the remaining 23 rest areas and welcome centers to provide more than 225 legal truck parking spaces,” VDOT said. “This will offset the total number of truck parking spaces lost at the closed facilities. VDOT will also remove signs that had restricted vehicles to two-hour parking limits.”

Dale Bennett, executive vice president of the Virginia Trucking Association, said the changes result in “no net loss of truckparking spaces, but we are still disappointed that VDOT’s had to take these steps.”

Members of Virginia’s congressional delegation had attempted to stall the closures during a July 17 hearing of the House Appropriations Committee by amending the transportation appropriations bill to allow the state to commercialize its rest stops.

“If these stops close, we’re probably going to have a major accident on [interstates] 95 or 81,” Wolf said while offering his amendment.

The amendment was endorsed by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), who wrote to Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the transportation bill.

In his letter, Kaine said the “absence of [a commercialization] option has helped ensure our state’s rest areas will soon be left idle.”

Olver said during the hearing he opposed the amendment, which failed in a 26-32 vote, because it was not the committee’s place to change policy and those issues should be dealt with not through the appropriations process but through the reauthorization of the highway program.

He also said the amendment was not likely to prevent the rest areas from closing anyway.

“Our bill will not be in law until first of October, if we’re lucky, and the rest areas are going to be closed in a couple days,” Olver said. “Furthermore, the commercialization process cannot be done overnight. It would take at least a year or so to do.”

Lisa Mullings, chief executive officer of Natso Inc., formerly the National Association of Truck Stop Operators, praised the committee vote.

“One thing is clear: Commercializing rest areas is no solution to Virginia’s budget challenges,” she said. “Virginians who own, operate and work at businesses at interstate exits would be threatened by a government monopoly on the right-of-way. We challenge Virginia to come up with an alternative that does not force a choice between public safety and jobs.”

Gary Short, CEO of Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corp., Providence Forge, Va., told TT that while it is “a bit too early” to gauge the effect on truckers, I’m sure we will” hear about it from drivers.

Short said he was driving on Interstate 64 the day the stops were closed and saw a woman who “just had stopped the recreational vehicle over on the shoulder of the road and got out and was walking the dog in the grass in front of the rest area, and I think that’s what we’re going to see.”

Atlantic Bulk, he said, was in the middle of a series of driver safety meetings, and “we’ll be bringing that up in the meetings — that they’re not to stop on the shoulders of the road.”

VTA’s Bennett said the closures had not yet begun to affect truckers in the state.

“We haven’t heard anything from our members,” he said. “They knew it was coming; they knew what to expect.”