Virginia Moves Ahead with Commercialization Initiative

Next week, the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board will vote on a proposal to close 19 rest areas in the commonwealth, for a grand savings of $9 million.  As part of this plan to deal with the commonwealth’s budgetary shortfalls, Virginia has reaffirmed its support for commercialized rest areas and will call on Virginia’s congressional delegation to petition the federal government to allow the state to enter into the highway service business.

The Partnership to Save Highway Communities has been active from the first reports of rest area closures, including sending a letter to Governor Tim Kaine in opposition to the idea of commercialization as well as the closure of the rest areas altogether.  Commercialized rest areas will only serve to transfer economic activity from the local highway communities to the state.  The last thing the commonwealth should be doing in a time of such economic hardship is seek to replace thousands of Virginia-based businesses by directly and unfairly competing with them.

Also, you can’t help but question the political motives for proposing to close rest areas in the commonwealth.  The current proposal would save Virginia $9 million annually, or 0.225% of its entire transportation budget.  The $9 million saved each year is less than it costs to pave one half-mile of interstate highway.  However, such a small savings has yielded the largest complaints from motorists, truck drivers and local governments.  By proposing to commercialize Virginia rest areas, the commonwealth leaders have effectively shifted the conversation from Richmond to Washington, DC where they can then blame the federal government for not providing the flexibility to keep these rest areas open.

There are dozens of other programs the Virginia Department of Transportation could cut and keep these rest areas open, but the commonwealth is looking to spark a heated debate and therefore picked a visible target by threatening to close popular rest areas in Virginia.  As the debate moves forward into the summer, just remember – commercializing these rest areas isn’t the only option to save them.  In fact, it’s the worst option for everyone.

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