Thursday, May 28, 2009– It seems the Virginia Department of Transportation is more concerned with dollar signs than with highway safety when it comes to keeping vital safety rest areas open in the state.
A week ago, VDOT officials submitted their final recommendation to close 19 rest areas to the Commonwealth Transportation Board to save approximately $9 million. However, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has expressed grave concern that highway safety will be compromised in VDOT’s cost-cutting measures to save its bottom line.
In a letter to Gov. Tim Kaine, OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer wrote he was in “utter shock and disbelief” about VDOT’s plan to “gut the rest area program for a savings of a measly $9 million out of a transportation budget of more than $4.5 billion.”
“The rest areas on our interstate highways are not for luxury, but for safety, to allow drivers of all types of vehicles to get safely off the road when they need a break,” Spencer wrote in the letter. “It is a matter of life and death for all who travel the highways.”
While Gordon Hickey, press secretary for Gov. Kaine, told Land Line on Thursday, May 28, he hasn’t seen the letter yet, he said severe budget cuts are needed to deal with “the realities of the budget situation.”
“It’s not like there’s extra money around to keep rest areas open,” Hickey said. “We’ll see where the (CTB) board goes with the recommendation.”
The CTB is expected to make its final decision on the rest area issue at its monthly public meeting on Thursday, June 18, in Richmond. Hickey said anyone, including truckers, is welcome to attend the meeting and voice their concerns.
Spencer said that stopgap funding could be found to cover the maintenance costs of keeping the rest areas open “until a permanent funding solution can be implemented.” VDOT is looking at razing an additional 21 rest areas by 2011 if their efforts at commercialization fail.
“Highway safety should not be sacrificed over what is basically chump change to the transportation budget,” Spencer wrote. “The infinitesimal savings the commonwealth will realize from closing rest areas will be offset many times over by the loss of life and limb on the highways.”
– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer