New Jersey Fuel Merchants Association Decries Commercial Rest Areas

The New Jersey Fuel Merchants Association became the latest industry stakeholder to take a strong stand against commercialized rest areas last week, issuing a letter to Gov. Christie decrying calls to lease state rest areas to private companies offering food, fuel and other services as a means of shoring up state budget gaps.

In its letter, FMANJ said while it supports Gov. Christie’s broad goal of finding ways to more efficiently deliver essential government services and save taxpayers money, commercialized rest areas monopolize travelers’ business and starve small enterprises like truckstops, fuel retailers and restaurants that currently thrive near the Interstate exits.

FMANJ’s battle to tamp commercialized rest areas represents just one example in what is a quickly growing trend among states struggling to balance their budgets amid the weak economy. States like Arizona, Virginia, California, New Mexico and Washington increasingly are eyeing setting up businesses on the interstate right of way as a revenue generator.

Congress banned this practice, known as commercialization, in 1960 as a means of fostering community and business development along the Interstate highway system. In recent years, some 95,000 businesses thrive nationwide as a result of this ban, employing nearly 2.2 million people.

Some states are seeking to overturn the law through the upcoming reauthorization of the highway funding bill. What these states fail to recognize, however, is that overturning the longstanding Federal law isn’t a quick fix to short term economic woes.

A University of Maryland Study shows commercializing rest areas devastates businesses and local communities. By operating at an unfair advantage directly along the Interstate right of way, commercial rest areas siphon customers from nearby businesses. Failing local businesses mean less jobs, while property and income taxes local municipalities use to fund schools, fire and police protection are transferred to state coffers.

In 2009, New Jersey was home to 1,867 exit-based businesses. Of these, more than 60 percent would directly compete with the state’s rest areas. According to the University of Maryland study, these competing businesses employ more than 19,500 people and contribute more than $14 million in local property taxes.

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