OOIDA members, others blast VDOT’s rest area closure plan

| 3/12/2009

Virginia’s cost-cutting proposal to trim nearly $12 million from its budget by shuttering 25 of its 41 rest areas isn’t sitting well with truckers and some state lawmakers.

So far, more than 230 people have voiced concerns at two of the 11 public meetings the Virginia Department of Transportation is having around the state to discuss the proposed budget cuts.

VDOT says the cuts are needed to make up for a $2.6 billion transportation budget shortfall.

Although OOIDA member Paul Yurkovac said he agrees with VDOT that times are tough and the agency should spend its money wisely, he disagrees with how they propose to save money. Yurkovac said compromising truckers’ and other motorists’ safety on the roadways by eliminating valuable truck parking places at rest areas isn’t a wise move at all.

Of the 50-plus speakers who addressed VDOT in Roanoke, Yurkovac said none spoke in support of VDOT’s proposed plan.

Yurkovac, who traveled more than 250 miles from Newport News, VA, to the VDOT meeting, is the director of public relations for the Owner Operators Coalition of Virginia. The association was formed to address and support port truckers’ concerns. Yurkovac previously was an owner-operator who hauled containers in and out of the Port of Hampton Roads.

“It was important to be at this first meeting so VDOT officials could hear from truckers about the underlying safety implications these rest area closures could have if truckers have nowhere to rest and are forced back onto the interstates,” he told Land Line Magazine on Wednesday, March 11.

He told VDOT officials and lawmakers that Virginia truckers pay more than $1,300 in yearly state registration fees, as well as paying a “hefty highway use tax” to use the interstates in Virginia.

“If the state wants to cut out these facilities for the taxpayers who pay for them, then maybe VDOT should reduce the taxes it imposes on them,” he said.

According to VDOT’s own data, their decision to close some of the rest areas was because of their proximity to other commercial facilities. However, 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, food and – most importantly – rest.

OOIDA Life Member John Taylor of Cross Junction, VA, said he plans to attend the VDOT meeting in Fredericksburg District on March 30, if he’s home.

Taylor, who has been trucking for 58 years, said he started in the business before the National Highway System was even built. He said the rest areas that have been built along this network are vital facilities truckers need to “safely be able to do their jobs.”

“If VDOT does this, it’s going to be a huge safety nightmare for them,” Taylor told Land Line on Thursday, March 12. “The $12 million they say they are going to save isn’t even going to compare to the costs they will incur if they force sleep-deprived drivers out on the road by not keeping the truck parking open.”

Taylor also said some of the overflow at rest areas and truck stops is because many of the large shippers and receivers don’t allow trucks on their property until just before drivers’ appointment times. Taylor said some of these large facilities have parking for hundreds of trucks, but don’t allow drivers to use the parking spots.

OOIDA Life Member David Cannaday of Ferrum, VA, told Land Line he opposes VDOT’s plan to close these valuable rest areas. Like many other OOIDA members, he said he was ticketed for exceeding the state’s two-hour maximum at a rest area in VA.

“I think it cost me $135 and three points on my permit because I was ticketed for parking too long at a rest area,” Cannaday said.

Cannady said he’s been trucking for more than 40 years and that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a spot to pull off. He starts looking for a parking spot about an hour and a half before he said he “really needs to stop,” but that even planning ahead doesn’t always work in his favor.

“I run all up and down the eastern part of the country, and I tell you it’s tough out there to find a spot to park, so I don’t know why Virginia is pushing to close these rest areas,” he said.

OOIDA issued a “Call to Action” to its Virginia members to make their lawmakers and VDOT officials aware of truckers’ concerns to the proposed rest area closures.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line recently it’s absolute “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 said.

Here is the list of upcoming public meetings on VDOT’s proposal.

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

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