by Andy Warcaba
A famous old time song begins with “it’s still the same old story…” Each time rest area commercialization is brought up, the off-road advocacy groups site the results of a study prepared by a group out of Maryland that purports to indicate that mayhem will occur if rest areas are permitted to be commercialized because most of the off-road food and fuel providers will be driven out of business.
Let’s think about that for a moment. If the services currently provided by the off-road food and fuel operators were meeting all of the needs and desires of the motoring public, why would they be driven out of business by a competitive commercial rest area? The reality is that at some interchanges, it could cost a motorist up to 30-40 minutes to exit the interstate, purchase their product/service, satisfy their personal needs and re-enter the interstate just because of traffic congestion. How most of those sales being generated at a major interchange site along the interstate highway could be lost to a single rest area is beyond comprehension. No rest area in North America has the land mass available to absorb a major interchange and all of its amenities. In my opinion, the tactic of claiming extinction will occur to off-road food and fuel operators just does not measure up.
I believe that the case can be made that, in many instances, the off-highway commercial facilities provided by the private sector do not replicate all of the design, safety, quality and maintenance amenities that the traveling public has come to expect and that the DOT’s are duty-bound to sustain as part of their rest area operations, e.g., expanded restroom facilities, clean sanitary facilities, sense of calmness, ease of ingress/egress, expanded parking, and tourist information. This statement can be supported by the fact that nationally tens of millions of motorists stop at these non-commercial rest areas even though these facilities do not offer fuel and the expanded array of food and beverage choices. The high usage of these rest areas requires the individual state DOT’s to expend millions of dollars annually for operations and maintenance costs. The DOT’s do not have a means to be reimbursed for their costs of continuing their rest area operations. As the cost of building, operating and maintaining rest areas continues to escalate, the resources available to the State Department’s of Transportation have declined in the face of competing priorities.
It is unclear to me why the off-road advocacy groups fight the rest area initiative rather than embrace it and shift their efforts to join in with the legislators to figure out how to make it work! There is a market and the private sector interests are being denied of this opportunity.