Rest Area Commercialization Debate Makes Headlines

The debate over whether states should commercialize rest areas is making headlines, with the Boston Globe and the (Iowa) North Scott Press marking the latest news outlets to argue opposing sides of the issue.

A recent editorial in the Boston Globe (“For Cash-Strapped DOT, There’s Gold in Rest Stops” Aug. 23) called for Congress to overturn the federal prohibition against commercial development along the interstate right-of-way to give states the ability to independently fund their highway needs.

North Scott Press Columnist Phil Roberts, meanwhile, championed the existing ban in coverage of presidential candidate Rick Perry’s recent meet and greet at Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, Iowa (“Privatizing State Rest Areas Would Hurt Consumers, States Alike” Aug. 24).

The Globe said “expanding options along the highway would serve both bottom lines and motorists, who currently lack convenient food and gas choices along vast stretches of the interstate.”  The Globe suggested that Congress replace the existing ban with a more flexible policy that included allowing commercial activities in isolated areas, placing limits on signage, capping an overall number of commercial rest areas and banning commercial rest areas on scenic stretches of interstates.

The Independent Oil Marketers Association (IOMA), a member of the Partnership to Save Highway Communities, quickly criticized the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDot) and the Boston Globe for recommending that the state add commercial services to interstate rest areas.

IOMA President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Romano said allowing the state to set up shop along the interstates jeopardizes 1,350 businesses that operate along the Massachusetts highway exits and more than 25,000 jobs.

North Scott Press Columnist Phil Roberts opposed commercial rest areas, writing, “Perhaps if the present system isn’t broken, we shouldn’t fix it.”

Roberts interviewed Iowa 80 At-Large Director Delia Moon Meier, who said privatization of rest areas would be catastrophic to businesses like hers.

“The ban was and is still right,” she said, “and it created opportunity and jobs and still does. Washington’s whims should not be determining winners and losers. We believe customers should. And hard work and reinvestment should. And employees should.”

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