Truckers, vacationers and others driving Virginia’s interstate highways this week will see a big decline in the number of places they can take a break along the highway. The state closed 18 rest areas overnight July 20-21 to cut costs in a severe budget crunch.
And drivers should not expect the rest areas to reopen any time soon. State employees are stripping the facilities of most equipment, treating these in effect as permanent closures.
Many of the closures are on the major north-south truck routes of Interstate 95 near the East Coast and Interstate 81 that runs between western Virginia mountain ranges and through the Shenandoah Valley.
Rest areas were also closed along east-west I-64 and I-85 running from Richmond into North Carolina, and an I-66 facility at Manassas. In September, the state will close another facility at Manassas, its only welcome center that was on the target list.
Truckers had opposed the closures and tried building federal pressure to keep the facilities open, but they were shut down this week on schedule.
“Our plan right now is, we’re mothballing these facilities,” said Jeffrey Caldwell, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Transportation. He said once all the sites stop operating, VDOT expects to save $9 million a year.
The agency will have 23 open rest areas, but its action this week removes nearly half its operating inventory.
“If our budget situation changes, or if federal law changes, that would allow us to privatize these facilities,” Caldwell said, “then we would consider reopening one or more of the sites, up to all of them.”
Privatizing highway rest areas is something many truckers oppose, saying their taxes help pay for the no-charge spots where they can simply use restroom facilities and take a nap. Many also prefer highway rest areas for their quick access to the roadway, compared with exiting to reach fueling stations.
But Virginia is one of a growing list of states anxious to shed their costs of operating the facilities, and tap revenue from sales of fuel or other products by vendors. Some say their rest stops could be commercialized like those along tolled turnpikes, where the access is much like that of interstate rest areas.
Caldwell said that absent some budget improvement or a change in federal law, at some point VDOT would need to get rid of the rest area buildings as well, and convert the sites to other use.
Click here to see a list of the closed rest areas in Virginia and find a map showing those sites.
Contact John D. Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.