Virginia lawmakers say ‘no’ to bill reopening rest areas

| 8/20/2009

The likelihood of Virginia reopening its closed rest areas anytime soon suffered a blow this week at the state Capitol.

Lawmakers who wanted to take advantage of a special session of the General Assembly to put before legislators an effort to reopen 18 rest areas will instead have to wait until next year. The rest areas were closed on July 21.

The House of Delegates voted 82-7 on Wednesday, Aug. 19, to limit the chamber’s business to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. As a result, consideration of a bill to reopen rest areas must wait until the next regular session convenes in January.

A group of lawmakers had sought to bring up for consideration a bill to have Gov. Tim Kaine and the Virginia Department of Transportation come up with the $9 million the agency says is needed to reopen the rest areas.

One option touted by Delegate Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, calls for delaying a $12 million renovation to VDOT’s central office in Richmond.

Another possible solution was addressed in a recent letter to the editor to the Culpeper Star Exponent. Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Culpeper, requested the state’s secretary of transportation to shift some of the available maintenance funds into the rest areas that have been shuttered.

Among the most important reasons for reopening the rest areas that Marshall cited are the effects it has on over-the-road truck drivers who are required by law to stop and rest.

“In the long run the closures will cost us more both in lives as a result of higher need for emergency services,” Marshall wrote.

Landes noted similar concerns among residents about the closures.

“The citizens of the commonwealth see the closures as a public safety issue, not just an inconvenience,” Landes said in a statement.

Landes is among those running for office who has indicated he will push for legislation once the 2010 session opens. Seats for the House of Delegates are on the November ballot.

Any effort that comes up for consideration next year is expected to get a warm reception at the governor’s desk. The state’s two gubernatorial candidates, former Attorney General Bob McDonnell, a Republican, and state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Hot Springs, have pledged to reopen the rest areas within the first three months of their terms.

Deeds said he supports commercializing the facilities by bringing in private vendors to maintain them. McDonnell has suggested having private organizations participate in an “Adopt-a-Safety-Rest-Stop” program.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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