Drivers scramble for parking as 63 rest areas close in MN

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | 6/30/2011

That’s because the state is closing all but three rest areas pending a looming government shutdown if a budget can’t be passed by midnight on Thursday, June 30.

Christina Joyce, public affairs supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, told Land Line on Thursday that the agency will reopen rest areas “as soon as possible after the governor and legislature have reached a state budget agreement.”

Joyce said all 10 of the state’s travel information centers and the Cass Lake Regional Welcome Center will be closed, but that a few rest areas “will remain open because they are maintained or operated by other parties.”

She said the three rest areas or the welcome centers that will remain open include the Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center on Highway 371, which is operated by the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce; the Park Rapids Area Welcome Center on U.S. 71, which is operated by the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce; and the Floodwood Rest Area on U.S. 2, which is run by the City of Floodwood.

She said 29 of the closed rest areas are on the interstate system and another 14 are on non-interstate highways in Minnesota.

Early Thursday, an OOIDA member leased to Dart Transit Co. of Eagan, MN, told Land Line that he was parked at the rest area at Oakland Woods on Interstate 90 when a Minnesota Department of Transportation officer asked him and five other truckers parked at the site to leave because they were shutting it down.

“One driver said he couldn’t leave because he was in the middle of his 10-hour break and it would mess up his electronic logs, but he was told to move his truck anyway or they would have to tow it,” the Dart driver said. “His orders were to shut it down, there was nothing he could do.”

Another OOIDA member from Minnesota said he asked a state DOT official if they could just lock the buildings, but not barricade access to critical truck parking spaces.

“The answer I received was they couldn’t keep the parking lots open because there wasn’t going to be anyone emptying the trash and they couldn’t have the trash blowing across the highway because that would be a safety hazard for motorists,” he said. “My thinking was that locking out drivers from these sites who then have to park on the shoulders of the highways isn’t a safety hazard?” 

Joyce said the state may also close 13 rest areas that have vault or pit toilets and 180 wayside sites that have scenic views or historical markers.

One driver said the state of Minnesota couldn’t have picked a worse time to shutter its rest areas for motorists and truckers right before the July 4th holiday weekend.

“I had heard this might happen, but I thought they would close them next Tuesday, after the holiday weekend, not before one of the busiest weekends on our highways,” the driver said.

It’s not clear if scale houses will be operational.

Kevin Gutknecht of MnDOT confirmed that the permitting offices would remain open for drivers seeking overweight permits if there is a shutdown.