Minnesota could close most of its rest areas

| 4/4/2003

The Minnesota Department of Transportation could close most of its rest areas unless the Legislature agrees to privatizing rest area operations.

MnDOT has proposed closing most of its rest areas in its efforts to meet its $42 million annual budget reductions, MnDOT Districts Operation Director Bob Winter recently told the House Transportation Finance Committee.

The proposal recommends closing most, or all, non-interstate and even some interstate rest areas to meet the budget target. Although MnDOT has not specified which rest areas will be closed, there are at least 42 non-interstate rest areas.

Currently, the state operates 77 Class I and II rest areas, including 35 Class I rest areas on an interstate, 18 Class I rest areas at non-interstate locations ad 24 Class II rest areas at non-interstate locations. Class I rest areas are full-service, year-round operations, while Class II rest areas have limited facilities and generally are operated seasonally.

Winter's proposal indicates the rest area closures would save the state around $2 million a year. The department's budget cuts are part of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's effort to fix the state's $4.2 billion budget deficit.

“Providing roadside rest areas isn't considered a core mission for the department, which focuses on highway maintenance and construction,” Winter said.

Although MnDOT's budget proposal is not considered a legislative bill, it still must be affirmed by the Legislature.

The department is seeking alternatives to closing rest areas, says MnDOT spokeswoman Sonya Pitt. She specifically mentioned a Senate bill introduced April 1 by Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, that would protect the department's partnerships with cities and organizations who currently assist in operating rest areas.

SF1355 would allow MnDOT to lease rest areas to local governments, private companies and nonprofit organizations.

Similar proposals – HF1414 and HF1446 – have been introduced in the House.

--by Rene Tankersley, feature editor