Cover Story
States put dollars over safety
As transportation funding dries up, states cut critical services for truckers

By Clarissa Kell-Holland
staff writer

 

The state of Virginia started a frightening trend a few months ago when state officials there shuttered nearly half of their rest areas to save money.

And as more states struggle with transportation funding shortfalls, more rest areas and the critical parking they provide truckers are being closed.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been encouraging drivers to contact their lawmakers about how these closures will affect highway safety.

Recently, Arizona, Ohio and Florida have followed Virginia’s lead and have closed some of their rest areas, citing budget woes.

The Arizona Department of Transportation closed 13 of its 18 rest areas in mid-October. In the past two fiscal years, the state’s Legislature has transferred more than $533 million from ADOT’s budget to solve the state’s overall budget shortfall. Closing the rest areas will save ADOT approximately $2.5 million annually.

Doug Nintzel, media relations director for ADOT, said he isn’t sure when or if the rest areas will reopen. He said the department will continue to “re-evaluate the closures toward the end of the fiscal year in June 2010.”

“I know that our situation is one where we are not going to be completely optimistic about that (reopening). We have concerns about the budget situation getting worse,” Nintzel said.

OOIDA Member Ken Kubert of Sun Lakes, AZ, said he’s concerned about the safety impact that closing these rest areas will have on truckers traveling through his home state.

“I don’t think closing these rest areas is the answer,” Kubert told Land Line. “In fact, ADOT just spent a lot of money redoing some of the rest areas; then they turn around and close them back down again.”

In OOIDA Member Lewie Pugh’s home state of Ohio, two rest areas were recently razed to make room for a new interchange on I-77 at Dover.

Pugh said he isn’t opposed to the new interchange project, which will keep trucks from having to route through residential areas on routes 21 and 250. However, Pugh told Land Line he is concerned about drivers’ safety because ODOT didn’t propose any new truck parking sites when eliminating the two rest areas.

He said there are two closed weigh stations nearby that would be ideal sites for truckers to park. However, Becky McCarty, the public information officer for ODOT, said there are no immediate plans to rebuild or replace the sites.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the funding at this time to rebuild them  … but we hope to someday rebuild them,” she told Land Line recently.

In Florida, the final remaining rest area in Volusia County was closed recently. While the rest area didn’t have restroom facilities, it did provide truckers with a place to rest. An FDOT official said that the agency will save approximately $10,000 per year in maintenance costs and that a fence will be constructed around the site to keep people out.

OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz said state officials don’t seem to get the importance of having a place to stop when drivers are tired.

“Drowsiness can hit at any time, and lack of adequate rest areas significantly impacts highway safety – especially for irregular route truckers who may never have traveled a particular route and have zero knowledge of available stops with truck parking,” he said.

OOIDA Member Gordon Alkire of Riley, KS, agrees that closing rest areas will make it impossible for truckers to get adequate rest.

“When you put the dollar ahead of safety, you have made a very wrong decision,” Alkire wrote in an e-mail to Land Line. LL

 

clarissa_kell-holland@landlinemag.com

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