Archive for August, 2009

Calls for Commercialization in Georgia Should Go Unanswered

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Recently, the Georgia Department of Transportation announced plans to close two rest areas along I-85. The rest areas are the oldest and most expensive to maintain, according to Georgia officials. What’s more, they said, criminal activity is rising at these locations and private development now provides the services once offered at them.

To its credit, Georgia has resisted the urge to turn these closures into a political statement by proposing to commercialize the facilities, unlike the Commonwealth of Virginia.

While Georgia’s public officials have avoided making this a political issue, the same can’t be said of the Georgian press, who are using the closures as a platform to call for an end to the ban on rest area commercialization.

A recent editorial in the Athens Banner-Herald calls for rest area commercialization as a government money maker, despite recognizing that existing businesses would suffer tremendously as a result. What’s more, the editorial suggests two impractical policies to mitigate the damages. The July 30 article proposes that the state offer businesses near the rest areas the opportunity to relocate while also limiting commercial development along the Interstate.

Neither of these are realistic solutions to the state’s budget crisis. In fact, they only serve to hurt the local business community and the motoring public.

The editorial’s premise supposes that it’s easy for a business owner to walk away from a long-term lease or mortgage, while at the same time raising the necessary funds for a new venture. In reality, such a proposal would significantly increase costs for a business owner who already has paid a premium – in many cases millions of dollars — for a location close to an Interstate exit. The costs to leave that establishment will be even higher.

Furthermore, limiting commercial development on the Interstate would grant a virtual monopoly to those who win the lucrative state contracts. Such deals shut out all other investors. This game of winners and losers for control of the right of way will only lessen motorists’ choices.

The best solution is to keep all businesses off the Interstate and let the state focus on constructing, maintaining and operating the highway system. Thousands of businesses nationwide already are available to help meet the commercial needs of highway motorists.