ODOT Should Compare Apples to Apples

In its latest bid to raise funds for state transportation projects, the Ohio Department of Transportation is seeking to commercialize non-interstate rest areas.

ODOT thinks that because the state generates between $4 million and $5 million dollars annually from privately operated service plazas on the Ohio Turnpike that it can do the same on other roads.

But ODOT is comparing apples and oranges.

Commercialized rest areas on the Ohio Turnpike operate from an advantaged location that other private businesses are barred from accessing. As a result, ODOT’s commercial rest areas on the Turnpike enjoy the privilege of high traffic volumes and zero competition.

Furthermore, since private businesses already are meeting the needs of the traveling public, putting the state in direct competition with them will further carve up the limited dollars spent at businesses already struggling against lower traffic counts.

Considering these two factors, Ohio is unlikely to generate anywhere near $4 million by commercializing rest areas along non-interstates.
ODOT recently floated its idea to more than 30 businesses and affiliated trade groups when it issued a Request for Information.

In comments filed with the agency, NATSO, which represents truckstops and travel plazas nationwide, said it understands the significant budgetary challenges facing the agency but strongly opposes the commercialization of rest areas.

“Commercializing rest areas and allowing states to get in the business of selling food and fuel may seem like an easy way for the state DOT to generate revenue,” NATSO wrote. “But in reality, it represents government intrusion into the private sector.”

ODOT should reconsider its latest idea and seek alternative solutions that don’t jeopardize existing private businesses for little or nothing in return.

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