VDOT announces public meetings on plan to close 25 rest areas

| 3/6/2009

As Virginia’s cash-poor budget looks to make up for an estimated $2.6 billion shortfall in transportation revenue, the Virginia Department of Transportation is pushing forward with its proposal to close 25 of its 41 rest areas in the state.

On Tuesday, March 10, VDOT will have its first of 11 public meetings on the proposed rest area closures. If the proposal is adopted by the Commonwealth Transportation Board at its meeting in June, this will mean that more than half – or 412 of the 770 current truck parking spaces – at the state’s rest areas will be closed.

VDOT Chief of Communications Jeff Caldwell told Land Line Magazine recently that closing these rest areas will save the agency at least $12 million per year. He also said the plan, if adopted, is to barricade the locations so that no one can park at the closed sites.

This would be a major blow to tired truckers already struggling to find a parking spot to pull off and take a break when passing through Virginia.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said it’s absolutely “madness” for any state to be closing more than half of their rest areas as in Virginia because it’s sending the wrong message to truckers that the state’s economic concerns outweigh highway safety.

“Nothing should be more important to the DOT of any state than highway safety, but what’s happening here in Virginia shows that their shortsighted initiative to save money is putting truckers at risk,” Spencer told Land Line. “It also shows they don’t understand how the transportation industry works because all goods consumers buy on the shelves and the fuel consumers purchase at gas stations has to get there by truck.”

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

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 and 172 miles if the proposed rest areas are closed.

“What it comes 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.

Jacob Porter, VDOT special facilities program manager, said the proposed rest areas were chosen because of their close proximity to other commercial facilities, with the average distance being 3 miles.

However, according to VDOT’s own data about these other commercial facilities, at least 18 of the facilities near the rest areas to be closed don’t offer truck parking, and at least 12 of the facilities aren’t open 24 hours a day for truckers needing fuel and food.

Here is the list of public meetings on VDOT’s rest area closure plan. All meetings begin at 6 p.m. Prior to the start of the meetings, truckers wanting to speak must sign-in at the registration table.

March 10, Salem District
Northside Middle School
6810 Northside High School Road
Roanoke, VA  24019

March 11, Lynchburg District
Central Virginia Community College
3506 Wards Road
Lynchburg, VA 24502

March 12, Staunton District
Augusta County Government Center
18 Government Center Lane
Verona, VA 24482

March 16, Hampton Roads District (general meeting)
Willoughby Elementary School
9500 4th View St.
Norfolk, VA 23503

March 17, Hampton Roads (Jamestown-Scotland Ferry meeting)
Luther Porter Jackson Middle School
4255 New Design Road
Dendron, VA 23839

March 19, Culpeper District (including Hatton Ferry)
Daniel Technology Center
18121 Technology Drive
Culpeper, VA 22701

March 25, Bristol District
Southwest Virginia Community College
Charles R. King Community Center (Building 295)
724 Community College Road
Cedar Bluff, VA 24609

March 26, Richmond District
Central Office Auditorium
1201 E. Broad St.
Richmond, VA 23219

March 30, Fredericksburg District (general meeting)
Caroline County Community Center
17202 Richmond Turnpike
Milford, VA 22514

March 31, Fredericksburg (ferries)
Lancaster Public Library
235 School Street
Kilmarnock, VA 22482

April 1, Northern Virginia District
Fairfax City Hall
Room 111
10455 Armstrong St.
Fairfax, VA 22030

Click here to read the entire VDOT rest area closure proposal.
If truckers can’t attend the meetings, there is also an opportunity to comment on VDOT’s proposal. Click here to e-mail comments to VDOT by April 15.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer