Arizona lawmaker proposes bill to reopen 13 rest areas

| 3/11/2010

For truckers and motorists needing a place to stop and rest, their options have dwindled when passing through the state of Arizona.

That’s because the Arizona Department of Transportation shuttered 13 of its 18 state-run rest areas in October 2009 to save approximately $2.5 million annually.

One Arizona lawmaker, Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, has introduced a bill, HR2645, to allow private entities to reopen and maintain the rest areas. The bill currently has 48 cosponsors and is awaiting consideration before the full House.

“We’ve been hearing support for HB2645 from all over the state, in fact, all over the nation, including from truckers and long-haul operators,” Patterson told Land Line on Tuesday, March 9. “What it (the bill) will do is make sure there will be no bureaucratic obstacle toward public interest agreements to open the rest areas that were closed by Gov. (Jan) Brewer.”

Patterson said his bill has “a lot of support” from truckers, his constituents and from tourists who visit his state. He said their comments are that they don’t “feel very welcome in Arizona” after seeing that most of the rest areas are closed.

“It’s very difficult for us to claim, as the governor has, that Arizona is open for business,” he said. “It’s one thing to say that, but when people drive around on our roads and see the rest areas are closed and barricaded, that does not send a signal that we’re open for business.”

However, ADOT Spokesman Doug Nintzel told Land Line recently that each rest area costs an average of $300,000 to maintain and that the state’s transportation and overall budget have been hit hard in recent years.

“We recognize that rest areas are important. However, we’re going through tough times with our budget,” Nintzel said. “We’ve been hit hard by winter weather, and more than $500 million in transportation funds has been swept by the legislature in recent years to work on the state’s overall budget crisis.”

Nintzel added that “Patterson’s bill doesn’t give us (ADOT) anything we haven’t already tried.”

“We’ve already worked with the legislature to give us flexibility to explore an “Adopt-a-rest-area” program, to partner with private entities outside the highway rights-of-way and to look into private-public partnerships,” Nintzel said. “To date, these ideas are not catching on, partly because of the expense. It costs approximately $300,000 a year to operate a rest area. Many of our rest areas still need extensive repairs.”

Nintzel said the transportation agency is up against federal rules “that limit what we can do with the rest area operations.”

“Gov. Jan Brewer and ADOT Director John Halikowski have sent letters to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging the federal government to change policies that prohibit commercial or private options for rest area operations or to allow us to use Arizona’s federal highway funds to operate the facilities,” Nintzel said.

Nintzel said that because of the transportation funding shortfall, ADOT has had to narrow its focus to “necessary safety-based operations, such as snowplowing, roadway repair and crash response.”

Patterson said this legislation is an issue of safety. He understands how important the rest areas are for truckers who need to stop and rest.

“We are trying to help the truckers here. These guys, they work hard. They are hauling the freight that keeps our nation running, and we want to make sure they are safe,” Patterson said.

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer

State Legislative Editor Keith Goble contributed to this article.