Money trumps safety as VDOT proposes closing 25 rest areas

| 2/23/2009

Less than a week after one Virginia Department of Transportation official admitted the state was “deficient” in providing adequate truck parking, the agency announced plans to close 25 of its 41 rest areas in the state.

VDOT Chief of Communications Jeff Caldwell cited a $2.6 billion shortfall in transportation revenue as the reason for the proposed rest area closures.

VDOT’s proposal would be a major blow to tired truckers already struggling to find a parking spot after dark when passing through Virginia. In recent months, OOIDA members have reported being rousted from their sleeper berths and told to move on or ticketed for exceeding the state’s two-hour maximum at rest areas. Most said they looked for a spot at major truck stops, which were overflowing, before pulling off to take a break at rest areas.

“Overall, we know that a reduction in rest areas will have an impact on the trucking community and on regular drivers,” Caldwell told Reed Black on Land Line Now recently. “But we are really facing a situation here – major cutbacks in our revenue. We’re struggling to find alternatives that will allow us to keep our roads safe, but we may have to restrict these drivers’ services.”

This news also comes after Martin Krebs, who is the special facilities financial manager for VDOT, told Land Line Magazine on Feb. 13 that he was aware the state of Virginia is “deficient in providing adequate parking for commercial vehicles, especially along the I-95 and I-81 corridors” and that VDOT was in the process of developing a “master plan for our safety rest areas.”

“We exist to reduce roadside fatality and accidents, and people need to have access off the interstates to rest to avoid fatigue-related accidents,” Krebs said.

OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz said VDOT should explore other ways to save money rather than closing rest areas that are “vital components to highway safety.” 

“Virginia should not be penny wise and pound foolish when analyzing where to make budget cuts,” Rajkovacz told Land Line Magazine. “Highway safety should be the first priority, and maintaining rest areas for highway users should not be sacrificed during this budgetary crisis.”

Caldwell said he admits there will be “longer stretches of highway” without rest areas, but that VDOT expects to save $12 million annually by closing 25 of its rest areas, mainly located in the central part of the state.

“What it’s come down to for us is really prioritizing safety functions first and repairing our roadways here in Virginia before we can provide these other driver services,” he said.

Besides potentially eliminating vital parking spots at 25 rest areas, the state of Virginia also prohibits truckers from parking on shoulders and ramps.

While some states have closed the facilities and allow truckers to park at the sites without any of the amenities, Caldwell told Land Line VDOT plans to “barricade these facilities and close them completely.”

The Commonwealth Transportation Board will meet on this issue in June. If the proposal is passed, the rest areas will close in July.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer