Archive for April, 2011

Freedom Foundation Dismisses Negative Effects of Commercial Rest Areas

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

While at first glance, rest areas commercialization seems like an easy way for state Departments of Transportation to get more money, the fact is this would be devastating to all of the businesses that for the last 50 years have been established at the interchanges to meet the needs of the highway traveler.

Existing exit-based business owners and operators welcome competition. In fact, when you get off the interstate at any exit, you will see clusters of fast food businesses, gas stations and truckstops going head-to-head vying for business from travelers.  Rest area commercialization will not increase the number of hamburgers or gasoline gallons sold. It will simply transfer the point of sale away from the competitive interchange environment to one business entity – whoever pays the state the largest amount of money to rent a location that is essentially on the shoulder of the highway.  Travelers on the interstate system are typically in a hurry to reach their destination, and if they can have their food and fueling needs met by simply pulling to the side of the road, as opposed to getting off on a cloverleaf, they will do so.  It will be impossible for interchange businesses to compete in such an environment.

It is deceptively easy to mistake this issue as a pro-business initiative, a move to privatize rest area services. But this is not privatization.

Congress privatized interstate services in 1960 when it prohibited commercial development at the rest areas. They had witnessed the exorbitant prices and practices that commercialized rest areas along our early toll roads had brought to the highway user.  Instead of allowing state highway departments to be in charge of deciding who should meet the needs of the motorist, they decided that this would be best done by the private sector - competing on a level playing field at the interchange, which would build up small towns across America, create jobs and tourism opportunities for these communities.  

In Washington state, nearly 2,242 businesses located within a quarter-mile of an interstate highway would be hurt.  Those businesses paid top dollar for property based on its proximity to the interstate, not expecting the government to siphon away its customers by granting its chosen vendor a prime location on the right-of-way. On a national scale, 97,000 businesses, including truckstops, gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants, employing 2.2 million Americans rely on customers exiting the interstate for food, fuel and other services. 

A study by the University of Maryland showed definitively that on sections of interstate where commercial services are permitted at rest areas, there are 50 percent fewer exit businesses than found on a typical interstate without commercial rest areas.

Contrary to statements made by the Freedom Foundation, nowhere is this demonstrated more dramatically than on the East Coast along Interstate-95, which runs through both Maryland and Virginia.  

Maryland, which was grandfathered in and not subject to the prohibition, has two commercialized rest areas and only 201 businesses at the exit interchanges over 109 miles. Virginia, which does not have commercialized rest areas, has more than 858 exit-based businesses over 178 miles of I-95.  Even taking into account the extra miles, the difference in commercial development along I-95 is striking, meaning more jobs, a healthier tax-base for local communities and more commerce for local communities and Virginians.

NATSO certainly appreciates the need on the part of states to close gaping budget deficits. But alternative solutions exist for cash-strapped states seeking ways to generate revenue. And they don’t threaten the livelihood of interstate-based businesses that supply jobs and tax revenues to local communities.

 

Washington DOT Breaks Ground to Install Charging Stations at Rest Areas

Monday, April 18th, 2011

The Washington Department of Transportation (WDOT) last week advanced its goal of installing electric charging stations at rest areas, breaking ground at the Custer Rest Stop on southbound Interstate-5.

The Partnership to Save Highway Communities strongly opposes the installation of electric car charging stations at rest areas and believes WDOT should work with existing exit-based businesses to install electric car charging stations at private businesses. Installing electric charging stations at rest areas instead of private business could open the door to future rest area commercialization efforts, threatening existing businesses along I-5.

Late last year, the Governors of Oregon, Washington and California signed an agreement pledging to work toward building a “Green Highway” along I-5 on the West Coast. And in October, the Oregon Department of Transportation was awarded $700,000 in stimulus funds to pay for eight charging stations in a public-private partnership with ECOtality.

NATSO, the national association representing truckstops and a member of the Partnership to Save Highway Communities, applauded Oregon for working in partnership with exit-based businesses by targeting existing commercial enterprises to install electric charging stations and encouraged Washington and California to follow Oregon’s lead and develop similar innovative partnerships with exit businesses.

Indiana Rep. Bucshon Recommends Commercial Rest Areas

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) last week recommended that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee consider rescinding “federal red tape on states” to develop public-private partnerships and commercial rest areas to help cut costs and raise revenue. These comments were delivered days after a meeting with Rep. Bucshon’s staff, during which staff members told NATSO, the association representing truckstops and travel plazas, that while they don’t support commercializing rest areas, the state of Indiana needs to find a way to get the rest areas “off the books.”

Rep. Bucshon made the comments at an April 4 hearing of the T&I Committee, during which members offered policy proposals to reform the nation’s surface transportation programs. The hearing was an opportunity for the members to submit their ideas to the committee that could be incorporated into the upcoming highway bill.

In advance of the hearing, NATSO issued an action alert urging truckstop owners and operators to ask their members of Congress to oppose any legislation that would weaken or repeal the federal ban on commercial rest areas. 

Members of the Partnership to Save Highway Communities are encouraged to do the same here.  

Tell Your Congressman To Reject Legislation Aimed at Weakening the Ban on Commercial Rest Areas

Monday, April 4th, 2011

 

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing tomorrow so that members of Congress can offer policy proposals to reform the Nation’s Surface Transportation Programs.  

 

In advance of the hearing, NATSO is urging exit-based business owners and operators to contact their members of Congress today to ask that they oppose any legislation that would weaken or repeal the law prohibiting commercial development of rest areas. Tomorrow’s hearing is an opportunity for the members to submit ideas to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that could be incorporated into the surface transportation reauthorization legislation. In light of the pressure Congress is getting from state governments, it is imperative that they understand that repealing the law will devastate  businesses that rely on customers exiting the interstate for food, fuel and convenience items.

 

NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings last week urged Congress to strongly oppose any effort to amend or repeal the federal law prohibiting commercial development on the interstate right-of-way, testifying that such efforts represent government intrusion into the private sector and would jeopardize businesses and jobs nationwide.

 

Educating members of Congress about the devastating effects of commercial rest areas is paramount considering Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster’s recent comments in CSP News that he could reconsider his position against commercial rest areas.  Demonstrating a common misunderstanding about the negative effects of commercial rest areas on existing exit-based businesses, Rep. Shuster said he was optimistic that after an initial blow, travel centers and other businesses would rebound, even if rest areas were commercialized.