Archive for the ‘Highway Reauthorization’ Category

N.C. Unveils Electric Vehicle Charging Station at Rest Area

Friday, January 20th, 2012

North Carolina has installed EV charging stations in rest areas near Burlington on Interstate 40, and at the junction of Interstates 95 and 40.  The state is providing the charging service free of charge due to federal laws prohibiting commercial services at interstate rest areas.  Raleigh-based Praxis Technologies Inc. provided the stations through a grant from the state Commerce Department.  Retailers should be alarmed about the state government providing transportation fuel — in this case, electricity –  paid for with tax dollars.  This is a strategy for state departments of transportation to help make the case that they need to have the ability to start charging for the service, and that the federal ban on rest area commercialization should be overturned.

Commercialized Rest Areas Not An Answer to State Budget Woes

Monday, December 13th, 2010

 

Commercializing rest areas may appear to be a solution to state budget woes, but will devastate interstate businesses and drain cities and counties of needed tax revenues that fund local services, NATSO said last week at the meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

 

NATSO Vice President of Government Affairs participated in a panel discussion on rest area commercialization at the NCSL Fall Forum in Phoenix, Ariz.  Alfano told the group that Congress created the ban on rest area commercialization in 1956 to encourage commercial development along the newly created Interstate Highway System.  That strategy has been a success, and today more than 95,000 businesses thrive at interstate exits across the United States.  By contrast, interstates with commercialized rest areas have 50 percent fewer businesses at the exits.  

 

She noted that truck parking is also impacted by commercialization.  Commercialized rest areas deter truckstops from locating along the interstates where they are found, and typically interstates dominated by commercialized rest areas have one-third fewer truck parking places.

 

“The business model of the commercialized rest area is one that relies on a constant turnover of customers,” Alfano told the conference. “It’s not one that caters to professional drivers, and the facilities offer few truck parking spaces and no driver amenities such as lounges and showers.”  She noted that the recent multi-million dollar redevelopment of the Delaware House, a commercialized rest area on I-95, only added a few truck parking spaces, for a total of 50.  Many truckstops offer 200 or more spaces for drivers.

 

She acknowledged the budget challenges faced by many states, and supported the suggestion made by panelist Kevin Biesty of the Arizona Department of Transportation, who said that states need to be allowed to use some of their federal dollars for rest area maintenance.

State DOTs Explore Rest Area Commercialization Options

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

The truckstop industry’s “hardnosed and successful opposition” was cited as one of the primary obstacles that must be overcome by state Department of Transportation (DOT) officials seeking to commercialize rest areas as a way to generate revenues for states facing budget issues.  Yet despite the devastating economic impact rest area commercialization would have on small towns and business along the nation’s interstates, transportation officials seem determined to press forward.

During a roundtable discussion last weekend, members of the American State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) explored several options for offering commercial services at rest areas.  As state budgets continue to lag, officials in several states are facing decisions about closing rest areas and are looking at the cites as potential revenue generators.

NATSO Vice President of Government Affairs Holly Alfano informed the group that two million jobs depend on traffic from motorists exiting interstates and that many of those jobs would be lost under options being touted as solutions to state revenue shortfalls. In reality, she pointed out, rest area commercialization would give state-controlled plazas a virtual monopoly on travelers’ food, beverage, retail and fuel purchases, stripping revenues from the communities along the interstate.

Alfano said that NATSO and its coalition representing 60,000 highway businesses would continue to vigorously oppose any effort to relax or overturn the 50 year prohibition.  While acknowledging the budgetary issues faced by states, she told the group that interstate-based businesses also have been affected by the recession, experiencing a significant decline in traffic at their locations over the last two years.

AASHTO members cited the upcoming highway reauthorization as an opportunity to repeal or change the law prohibiting commercial services at rest areas.  Some of the options that AASHTO members explored during the session included:

  • Outright repeal of the commercialization ban
  • Passage of a law that would allow limited pilot projects
  • Compromise legislation that would allow commercialization in areas where there are no competing private sector businesses
  • Development of commercial facilities off the right of way accessible by pedestrian-only access from the rest area facility.

The group also discussed the feasibility of states submitting SEP-15 applications, which involves petitioning the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for approval as an “experimental project.”  The  states of California, Washington and Oregon previously submitted a SEP-15 application to FHWA but the agency never acted upon it.

As an alternative to commercialization, a Utah official shared his state’s experience implementing the Interstate Oasis program, which allows exit-based businesses to supplant rest areas by offering motorists services they commonly seek at rest areas such as 24-hour restroom access and truck parking.  Arizona had attempted to develop the program, but they were unable to recruit businesses to participate.  Alfano suggested that a dialogue between business owners and the state could be established determine if the program could be made more appealing to businesses.

Asked if NATSO members would ever consider commercialization as a business opportunity, Alfano responded that they most likely would not.  Interstate businesses have already invested millions in the development of their exit-based locations, and would not be willing to jeopardize those investments to become a tenant in a state-owned commercial enterprise, she told the group. She added that that existing commercialized rest area contracts have only been awarded to large corporations.

Great Start, Long Fight in Commercialization Battle

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Last week, the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee approved a draft of the House version of the highway bill and the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to consider the bill sometime in July. The initial draft does not address the issue of rest area commercialization, leaving the ban completely intact, marking a great start in framing the issue during the reauthorization process.

However, it’s much too early to celebrate. The states of California, Washington and Oregon are still pushing their agenda to commercialize their rest areas and offer alternative fuels in addition to food and other services. Some in the Senate view this as a way to quickly develop an infrastructure for alternative fuels and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. With virtually no demand for these forms of energy, the costs would be offset by other offerings at the newly commercialized rest areas.

While we’re generally pleased with House version of the highway bill, its chances of passage are far from clear at this point. Instead of a long-term full highway bill reauthorization, the Department of Transportation is advocating for a short-term, 18-month extension to current law with “critical reforms” to keep the Highway Trust Fund from insolvency. DOT hasn’t indicated what those reforms are at this point, but given comments by Senator Barbara Boxer, the Senate seems to be leaning towards an extension of the current law. The Obama Administration repeatedly has suggested that some form of privatization should be explored as a revenue source and it isn’t clear what the official Administration position is regarding rest area commercialization.

Budget shortfalls in many states are worsening. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is in the process of closing 19 of its 41 rest areas due to funding issues. In a number of public meetings, members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board suggested that commercialization could save the rest areas, and suggested that Virginians should support overturning the ban. Similar funding scenarios are playing out in states across the country, setting the stage for more state agencies to suggest that commercialization is the answer to some of their funding needs.

So as you can see, the battle on this issue has just begun.

House Takes First Step in Highway Debate

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

The House of Representatives took the first step in moving a massive $500 billion highway bill, with the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit approving the measure earlier today. The legislation, introduced earlier this week, preserves the ban on commercialization of rest areas. While this is an initial victory for highway communities, you can expect attempts to weaken the ban at other stages in the legislative process. Prior to the introduction of the legislation, the Partnership to Save Highway Communities sent a letter to all members of the House Transportation Committee requesting to leave the ban on commercialization intact.

The House version of the highway bill, however, faces an uphill battle towards completion. First, the draft of the legislation doesn’t specify how to pay for extra funding for highway programs. With the President on record against an increase in fuel taxes, there are limited options for finding the additional funding for the Highway Trust Fund. Other options include a tax based on the actual number of miles driven, but that would require technological innovations that aren’t quite ready for mass distribution. The other popular option, tolling, won’t raise near enough money to fund the highway system and doesn’t work in more rural areas with long stretches of highway.

Second, the White House has already given up on a reauthorization bill this year, instead suggesting an 18th month extension of the current reauthorization, with some “critical changes” to the law. Given the rapidly approaching deadline of September 30 to complete the bill, it will be difficult to get both the House and Senate to take sufficient action to get a long-term bill to the President’s desk.

Following today’s markup in the Highways Subcommittee, the full Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will take up the bill, most likely in July. With everyone having extended time to digest and analyze the bill, you can expect a flurry of amendments, which could include attempts to commercialize highway rest areas.

Highway Bill Set for Action in June

Monday, June 1st, 2009

State budget shortfalls are requiring governors across the country to search for revenue from any extra source they can find.  A popular initiative to raise money for transportation programs – rest area commercialization – would have the states enter the highway services business, competing with private citizens located at the interstate exits.  With Congress set to discuss legislation regarding highway funding programs sometime this summer, you can expect this issue of commercialization to surface in the debate. 

The House Transportation Committee could publish a draft of the next highway bill as early as this week.  Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) has set an aggressive schedule for completion of the legislation, and wants to have the House pass the bill by the end of July. 

Before Congress can formally begin the process, it is important they hear from the highway community on the dangers of commercializing the interstate right-of-way.  Click here to view an Action Alert which contains a letter you can email to your Member of Congress in support of preserving the federal prohibition on rest area commercialization. 

Your help is essential in taking a pre-emptive stand against this economically dangerous proposal!