Ohio’s Selective Hearing

March 16th, 2012

The Senate sent a clear message this week that state DOTs cannot fix their budget problems on the backs of small businesses or at the expense of American jobs. But it looks like Ohio is refusing to listen.

Despite the Senate’s overwhelming rejection of Senator Portman’s Amendment to the highway bill, Ohio Transportation officials have said they will continue to pursue commercial rest areas as a means of generating revenue for the state.

The Senate soundly rejected Amendment #1742 to the transportation bill, S. 1813, earlier this week, recognizing the devastating effects that commercial rest areas would have on existing interstate businesses, jobs and local tax revenues.

In speaking against the Amendment, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer said Amendment #1742 would devastate the 97,000 exit businesses nationwide that employ 2.2 million people.

Ohio’s pursuit of commercial rest areas is short-sighted.

Ohio is risking thousands of businesses and millions of jobs just to save 1.7 percent of Ohio’s transportation budget and less than 0.5 percent the overall state budget.

More than 60 organizations opposed Amendment #1742, which would have granted state governments the ability to set up shop directly along the interstate right-of-way, giving states a major advantage over the travel plazas, truckstops, gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants at the exit interchanges.

With an 86 to 12 vote against commercial rest areas, the Senate’s position is clear. Ohio just doesn’t want to hear it.

County Executives Oppose Portman Amendment

March 12th, 2012

Counties that rely on businesses for tax revenues will be hard pressed to make up significant budgetary shortfalls if the Senate allows commercial rest areas when it votes tomorrow on the amendments to the highway bill, according to the County Executives of America (CEA).

In a letter urging Senators to vote against Amendment #1742 of the highway transportation bill, S. 1813, CEA said commercial rest areas would kill existing interstate-exit based businesses and damage tax revenues.

“County budgets are already strained,” CEA said.  “This initiative would simply shift state budget issues over to the local level.”

In many rural communities, gas stations, restaurants, convenience stores and truck stops represent the largest local taxpayers, contributing more than $22.5 billion in state and local taxes. These funds help to support schools, police and fire departments and other vital public services.

If state governments are permitted to set up shop along the shoulder of the highway, the state government essentially will become the largest competitor of local business owners, CEA said. With an unfair advantage on the highway shoulder, state governments will draw away drivers who typically would exit the interstate and enter local communities to buy food, fuel and other retail items. Ultimately, existing businesses will not be able to compete against these state rest areas; and many won’t survive.

Urgent Request! Senate Amendment Seeks to Commercialize Rest Areas

March 2nd, 2012

Although the Partnership to Save Highway Communities has been fighting efforts to commercialize rest areas in the House of Representatives, a new amendment has been introduced in the Senate that poses a serious threat to businesses serving motorists along the nation’s highways.

Amendment 1742, filed by Senator Rob Portman of Ohio to Senate transportation bill S. 1813, would allow state departments of transportation to open commercial rest areas for the sale of food, fuel and convenience items both on the interstate and on all highways.

This amendment poses the biggest threat retail business owners have ever faced under a highway bill.

The Partnership to Save Highway Communities is urging you to call your Senators today and ask them to vote no to Amendment 1742.

Click here to call or email your Senator.

Ohio DOT Announces Plans to Modernize Rest Areas

February 28th, 2012

Despite the fact that Ohio says it is $50 million short on funds to operate its rest areas, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) last week announced plans to modernize East and Westbound rest areas along U.S. 33 in Meigs County. The project is scheduled to go to bid this summer, and ODOT said it hopes to have the work completed by late fall.

A total of 44 rest areas in the state were scheduled for upgrades beginning in November 2010, including one along U.S. 50 in Athens County, the two along U.S. 33 in Hocking County and one along Ohio 7 in Gallia County. Ohio Reps. Steve LaTourette (R) and Dennis Kucinich (D) have introduced an amendment to the highway bill seeking to allow commercial rest areas both on and off interstate highways.

House Abandons Five-Year Highway Bill

February 28th, 2012

As the Partnership to Save Highway Communities and other groups were gearing up for a possible floor vote to attach an amendment on rest area commercialization to the highway bill, House Republicans decided  to put the highway bill on hold late Friday afternoon. While the future of the bill is uncertain, the House reportedly plans to pass a shorter-term bill.

The five-year, $260 billion highway bill was scheduled to come to the floor this week for a full House vote, but Democrats and some conservative Republicans were united in opposition to the bill.

At this time, the Partnership is working to determine what this will mean for language in the bill that would have allowed states to sell advertising and sponsorships at rest areas as well as Amendment 217, which seeks to allow the commercialization of rest areas located both on and off the interstate highway.

House and Senate Set to Consider Transportation Legislation

February 14th, 2012

Both the House and Senate will take up separate transportation bills this week.

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to consider H.R. 7, The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012, on Wednesday. The five-year, $260 billion bill has been the subject of much debate mostly due to the ways in which it will be paid for.  The bill cuts off fuel-tax revenue for public transit, expands offshore oil and Alaska drilling, requires approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and reduces retirement benefits for federal workers to help pay for transportation.  The bill also allows limited commercial activities at rest areas, allowing for advertising and sponsorships, and promotion of state tourism.

In the Senate,  a two-year $109 billion bill titled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), will be considered this week as well.

NATSO, a member of the Partnership to Save Highway Communities, has joined with other transportation groups issuing a letter opposing a possible amendment to allow expanded tolling on existing interstates.

Independent Oil Marketer Testifies Against New Hampshire Study of Rest Area Commercialization

February 10th, 2012

A member of the Independent Oil Marketers Association (IOMA) testified Feb. 7 in opposition to New Hampshire HB 1293, which would establish a commission to study retail opportunities and the sale of gasoline at rest areas on the state’s interstate highways.

IOMA member Tom Frawley of Summit Distribution in Lebanon, N.H., testified before the New Hampshire House Public Works and Highways Committee that federal law prohibits interstate rest areas built after 1960 from offering commercial services such as food and fuel. He also  testified that while Congress currently is in the process of the transportation reauthorization, neither the House nor the Senate bills that have been introduced propose any changes that would allow commercial fuel stations at rest areas.

Regardless of the outcome of HB 1293 or the study it authorizes, New Hampshire could not move forward with gas stations at rest areas on the Interstate Highway System under federal law.

NATSO Urges Missouri Lawmakers Not to Toll I-70

January 24th, 2012

NATSO, a member of the Partnership to Save Highway Communities representing truckstops and travel plazas, is urging Missouri lawmakers to oppose a proposal to toll Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City.

In a letter to state Sen. Bill Stouffer (R-21) and state Rep. Charlie Denison (R-135), co-chairs of the state’s Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight, NATSO said both traditional tolling and public private partnerships negatively impact consumers and interstate businesses that have grown up in towns and communities near interstate exits.

NATSO said while it recognized the need to maintain I-70, study after study shows that tolls carry astronomically higher capital and overhead expenditures compared with the fuel tax.  NATSO also expressed concern with the structure of public private partnership deals that typically offer states most of the revenues up-front and that are most often used by states to fix short-term budget woes.  “For highway users and taxpayers, the long-term leases that typically last for 75 to 100 years mean nothing more than tolling without input from elected officials,” NATSO said.

N.C. Unveils Electric Vehicle Charging Station at Rest Area

January 20th, 2012

North Carolina has installed EV charging stations in rest areas near Burlington on Interstate 40, and at the junction of Interstates 95 and 40.  The state is providing the charging service free of charge due to federal laws prohibiting commercial services at interstate rest areas.  Raleigh-based Praxis Technologies Inc. provided the stations through a grant from the state Commerce Department.  Retailers should be alarmed about the state government providing transportation fuel — in this case, electricity –  paid for with tax dollars.  This is a strategy for state departments of transportation to help make the case that they need to have the ability to start charging for the service, and that the federal ban on rest area commercialization should be overturned.

States Pursue Rest Area Commercialization

January 17th, 2012

Several states, including New Hampshire, Washington, and New York, could consider legislation this year regarding rest area commercialization. New Hampshire and Washington are interested in authorizing the sale of commercial services in rest areas pursuant to a change in federal law. Legislation in New York, meanwhile, has been introduced to authorize the use of public-private partnerships in transportation including rest areas and a number of other facilities.

The Partnership to Save Highway Communities opposes passage of these bills, which would increase pressure on Congress to act on the issue.

Measures under consideration, all of which would require a change in the federal law prohibiting rest area commercialization, include:

•    Legislation in New York, A 8487, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle, would authorize the use of public-private partnerships in transportation, including rest areas and other transportation facilities.

•    Legislation in New Hampshire, HB 1293 sponsored by state Rep. Ken Sheffert (R), would establish a commission to study retail opportunities and the sale of gasoline at rest areas on interstate highways. The House Public Works and Highways Committee will hold a hearing on the bill on Feb. 7.

•    Legislation in Washington state to allow for commercial rest areas was up for consideration last year and has been reintroduced. SB 5218 sponsored by state Sen. Paul Shin (D), would authorize commercial activities at rest areas pursuant to federal law.