Virginia Plays Politics with Rest Area Closures

Early this morning, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) went through on its plans and began boarding up rest areas across the state. No one thought that this political game of “chicken” would ever go this far.

VDOT first announced its plans to close rest areas in March, a proposal that was met with almost universal opposition from state residents and motorists. Shortly after announcing the closures, both the Governor and Secretary of Transportation said that they could keep the rest areas open…if Congress would allow them to run businesses there. Because the well-reasoned prohibition against rest area commercialization is a federal law, Virginia was able to shift the blame from Richmond to Washington.

Closing the rest areas in Virginia will save the commonwealth $9 million, or 0.25% of Virginia’s entire transportation budget. In June, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which approves VDOT’s annual budget, tried to save the rest areas by transferring the $9 million from an increase in the paving budget. According to Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, the amendment failed, with VDOT Secretary Pierce Homer casting the deciding vote.

While VDOT has discussed the rest area issue for several months, no one bothered to formally contact the Virginia congressional delegation to request help in their commercialization efforts until last Wednesday - two days before the House Appropriations Committee met to debate the 2010 transportation appropriations bill. Thankfully, the amendment to allow Virginia to commercialize their rest areas failed, but it will undoubtedly resurface in the coming days.

VDOT has had several opportunities to keep the rest areas open, but ultimately decided closing them was worth it in order to bring them closer to their long-time goal of commercializing their rest areas. Commercialization is not the only way to save Virginia’s rest areas – in fact, it will only result in job losses and a downturn in county and municipal taxes. Rest area commercialization will do far more harm than good to the small cities and towns that rely on interstate highway traffic to sustain their communities.

One Response to “Virginia Plays Politics with Rest Area Closures”

  1. Mark says:

    Since you all have contacts in Congress, I’d like to see a federal law that PROHIBITS all 50 states from closing any more RA’s throughout the country. Since the interstate system was built with majority federal tax dollars then Congress should have a say whether to deny states to close them.

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