SPECIAL REPORT: VDOT puts 19 rest areas on chopping block

| 5/21/2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009 – Virginia Department of Transportation officials submitted their final recommendation to close 19 rest areas in the state to the Commonwealth Transportation Board on Wednesday.

While this number is down from the proposed 25 closures VDOT announced in February, OOIDA Associate Director of Government Affairs Melissa Theriault Rohan said the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is disappointed by the decision to close any of the rest areas.

OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz said that eliminating any truck parking along the East Coast corridor, which has a high volume of truck traffic and notorious truck parking shortages, is an “irresponsible decision.”

VDOT Chief of Communications Jeff Caldwell told Land Line the Transportation Board “must act on the agency’s budget in June before our recommendations become final.”

According to VDOT’s presentation to the CTB, closing 19 rest areas would save VDOT approximately $9 million annually.

VDOT also is recommending that 225 commercial parking spaces be added by reconfiguring truck parking spaces at existing sites, including allowing some parking along the shoulder areas “where it can be done safely.”

Hundreds of truckers, including many OOIDA members, attended the 11 public meetings VDOT hosted around the state.

OOIDA member Paul Yurkovac from Hampton Roads, VA, attended three meetings and suggested that if VDOT officials moved forward with their plans to close the rest areas, why not close the bathroom facilities and keep the parking lots open, instead of barricading access to valuable parking at these sites.

Caldwell said this isn’t possible because of “issues with security and vandalism and concerns raised by the localities near these identified facilities.”

“To achieve our cost savings, we are recommending complete closure,” he said.

Replacing the state’s two-hour restriction at rest area would be changed to “no overnight parking,” according to VDOT’s recommendation to the CTB. Caldwell said this will mean that drivers “who arrive before sunset but leave before sunrise within a 24-hour period” will not be ticketed.

Although Rohan said this may seem like a step in the right direction toward eliminating Virginia’s strict two-hour enforcement policy at rest areas, there should be no time restrictions “at all” for truckers trying to comply with hours of service regulations.

Rajkovacz said VDOT’s time limit definition will be extremely difficult to enforce and is worried about what will happen to “drivers who arrive after sunset and leave after sunrise.”

VDOT also recommended pursuing commercialization at rest areas in an effort to keep them open and offset maintenance costs. If their efforts fail, their recommendation to the CTB is to consider “razing 21 sites beginning in 2011.”

Yurkovac said this could be catastrophic for truckers and motorists alike traveling through Virginia if nearly all of the rest areas are closed within two years.

“It seems that VDOT is looking at dollar signs instead of human life when making these decisions,” he said. “Their justifications for closing these vital rest areas are weak and could result in loss of life by forcing tired truckers to drive on when they can’t find truck parking.”

– By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer