VDOT seeks to cut 54 percent of rest area parking; cites budget woes

| 2/25/2009

Officials in Virginia are attempting to balance the state budget and make up for their $2.6 billion shortfall in transportation revenue – which may trump safety when it comes to providing adequate truck parking at the state’s “safety rest areas.”

Just a week ago, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced plans to close 25 of its 41 rest areas in the state. VDOT Chief of Communications Jeff Caldwell said this could save the agency $12 million per year in maintenance costs.

Caldwell told Land Line Magazine on Tuesday, Feb. 24, that 54 percent of the state’s available truck parking spaces at rest areas – or 412 of 770 current spaces – would be eliminated if the proposal is passed by the Commonwealth Transportation Board in June.

This is grim news for truckers struggling to find a spot to pull off to take their 10-hour break because many truck stops in the state are overflowing after dark.

For truckers traveling northbound on I-81 from Abingdon to the Maryland state line or from Winchester to the Tennessee state line, they would have to drive nearly five hours, or 314 miles, between rest areas, Caldwell said.

Caldwell said the average distance between other safety rest areas along interstates such as I-64, I-95 and I-85 would be between 100 to 172 miles if the proposed rest areas are closed.

“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,” Caldwell said.

There will be a series of public meetings on the proposed rest areas in March; however, Caldwell said the dates and locations have not been announced yet.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer