SPECIAL REPORT: MN shutdown leaves drivers scrambling for parking, info

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | 7/1/2011

July 1, 2011 – The state government in Minnesota failed to reach a budget agreement, resulting in the furlough of approximately 23,000 state workers today, July 1.

The shutdown has already affected truck drivers traveling through the state as 63 state-run safety rest areas in Minnesota have been closed. Some were ordered out of their spaces and forced to head on down the road.

Most state-operated websites are down, including those vital to truckers, such as the Department of Public Safety and Driver Services. The Department of Transportation, which halted all ongoing construction projects as of midnight, still has a functioning website, but presents a notice that most state government services will be closed to the public.

Kevin Gutknecht of MnDOT confirmed that the permitting offices would remain open for drivers seeking overweight permits during the shutdown.

If you call a scale house, you get a phone message that the scales are closed due to the state government shutdown.

On one of the busiest weekends of the year, campgrounds and state parks in Minnesota were also closed.

Christina Joyce, MnDOT public affairs supervisor, told Land Line on Thursday, June 30, that the agency plans to reopen the rest areas “as soon as possible after the governor and legislature have reached a state budget agreement.”

Joyce said in addition to the safety rest areas, 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.”

The three rest areas or welcome centers that will remain open include the Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center on state 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.

On Thursday, the phones at OOIDA headquarters in Grain Valley, MO, started ringing from drivers who were parked at the rest areas in Minnesota at the time when the closures were announced.

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 MnDOT 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 Fourth 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.

Copyright © OOIDA