States continue push to keep rest areas open

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, August 01, 2013

A new law in New Hampshire gives the state another option to address concerns about adequate funding to keep open rest areas. Other states have taken similar steps.

Gov. Maggie Hassan signed into law a bill authorizing the state to pursue selling sponsorships or naming rights to the 16-state-operated rest areas.

Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, said that the condition of the state’s rest areas gives the state a black eye. To make matters worse, he pointed out that many facilities aren’t even open.

“This is a critical situation in the state of New Hampshire. ... Even if it’s a small amount of money that keeps one facility open half the time, it’s worth trying,” Chandler recently testified. “This is a small step forward that could help immediately.”

Previously HB635, the new law also sets up a committee to study closed facilities.

Louisiana lawmakers also took action recently to allow sponsorship on state-owned assets, including the state’s nine rest areas.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development now has the authority to charge fees for sponsorship signs on state-owned property.

The DOTD’s Shawn Wilson previously told a legislative panel that federal law authorizes states to provide sponsorships at rest areas.

Wilson testified that rest areas would be “priced accordingly based on market assessment and what we see in other areas.” The revenue raised through sponsorships would stay with the rest areas.

Efforts to raise money for rest areas remain active at the Michigan and New Jersey statehouses.

A Michigan lawmaker is working on a bill that would raise money to help pay for upkeep of the state’s 81 rest areas.

Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, said he would rather take advantage of the sponsorship option instead of once again calling for Michigan residents to pay more taxes for transportation-related purposes.

“Bottom line, before I ask our hardworking taxpayers to fork out another dime in transportation taxes, we need to take a hard look at all of our options,” Colbeck stated.

In New Jersey, a bill halfway through the Legislature would give authority to reach sponsorship deals to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, Department of Transportation and South Jersey Transportation Authority.

“Offering sponsorship is an opportunity that would help business and industry in the state as well as relieve a burden on taxpayers,” stated Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.

The bill – A3461 – awaits further consideration in the Senate. Assembly lawmakers approved it by unanimous consent.

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