Ohio pursues creative solutions to keep rest areas open

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | 9/24/2012

Faced with a $1.6 billion shortfall, the Ohio Department of Transportation recently announced that it has enlisted the help of a Massachusetts-based marketing firm to help market some of the state’s assets.

Steve Faulkner, press secretary for ODOT, told Land Line on Monday, Sept. 24, that the transportation agency has signed a contract with Travelers Marketing of Wellesley, MA, to manage its “Sponsorship, Maintenance, Advertising and Revenue-Targeted – SMART – program at its 45 interstate rest areas. He said the eight-year contract could save the state an estimated $13 million by offering advertising opportunities in and around the rest areas.

Faulkner said it currently costs approximately $50 million per year to maintain all of the state’s 104 rest areas, including its 59 non-interstate rest areas. The contract with Travelers Marketing is specifically for the 45 interstate rest areas. The company also runs the same type of program for the Virginia Department of Transportation, as well as advertising opportunities at other state agencies around the country.

“Our goal is to do two things: generate revenue from state-owned assets that has never been generated before to ensure that we keep those facilities open and useful to the public, and reduce our maintenance costs,” he said.

Faulkner said the state is also pursuing partnership opportunities with a commercial developer interested in commercialization at some of the state’s non-interstate rest areas.

The alternative is closing the rest areas, which Faulkner said the transportation agency opposes.

“We want to provide that safety mechanism for motorists, whether they be families traveling to vacation destinations or truckers who are trying to move interstate commerce from one place to another,” Faulkner said.

“So if we can generate money from utilizing what traditionally has been an underutilized asset in the state of Ohio, if we can generate additional money from utilizing these assets in a more appropriate manner and also decrease our maintenance expenses it’s going to provide ODOT with a lot more money to build roads.”

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