Archive for September, 2010

Don’t Privatize Interstate Rest Areas

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Like many states recovering from the Great Recession, New Jersey is being forced to make the tough decisions about how to balance its budget. But one idea we hope the state ignores is the privatization of its interstate rest areas.

New Jersey state lawmakers are recommending the state be allowed to add commercial services like food and fuel to Interstate rest areas, a practice currently illegal under Federal Law.

While this may sound like a convenient way to generate revenue for the state, the hidden truth is it comes at the expense of small town businesses, jobs, local communities and truck parking.

Congress enacted the law prohibiting commercial services at rest areas when the interstate system was new to encourage commercial development along the Interstate and revitalize communities. Congress recognized that businesses at the exits would find it difficult to compete with government-run businesses at rest areas located along the Interstate right-of-way.

As a result of this foresight, today some 97,000 businesses thrive near the Interstate exits, employing more than 2.2 million Americans. New Jersey is home to 1,867 exit-based businesses, which employ more than 19,500 people and contribute more than $14 million in local property taxes, used to support schools and other public services.

But they undoubtedly will flounder if the state gains prime access to Interstate motorists. 

What’s more, if New Jersey was truly concerned about improving highway safety and increasing truck parking, it would cease calls for commercial rest areas. 

Contrary to statements made by New Jersey Transportation Commission James Simpson in a recent letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, commercial rest areas radically reduce the number of available truck parking spaces along the nation’s highways.

Studies show that truck parking is significantly greater on the stretches of the Interstate Highway where commercial rest areas are prohibited, because businesses designed to accommodate the trucking community can flourish.

In New Jersey, there are 3.5 times more truck parking spaces along the interstate routes where commercialized rest areas are prohibited.  Because of the rest area’s position on the interstate median or right of way, the ability to expand truck parking is severely limited.  Currently, more than 90 percent of overnight truck parking spaces in the United States are provided by travel plazas and truckstops. These truckstops compete for business from truck drivers by providing secure parking, showers and other services that are essential to keeping drivers rested and refreshed.

Government-run rest areas operate under a business model based on constant customer turnover, making it unlikely they would invest in catering to the needs of the nation’s professional truck drivers. 

The fact is, New Jersey already operates at an advantage that many other states don’t have.  Toll roads in New Jersey like the Turnpike and the Parkway were grandfathered into the current law and are allowed to operate commercial rest areas. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority earned $14.79 million in concession revenues for the first six months of 2010. It’s hard to understand why the state can’t utilize some of the revenue generated from those facilities to maintain other rest areas across the state.