Could Washington state soon privatize rest areas?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/7/2013

If a Washington state lawmaker gets his way, the state could pursue allowing private business to run certain rest areas.

Washington now makes available 48 rest areas for travelers around the state. All but six sites are a part of the national highway system.

Federal law prohibits private and nonprofit entities from leasing space at rest areas along the national highway system.

The Senate Transportation Committee recently discussed a bill that would ask the federal government to make an exception for the state.

“I would hate to not try because someone says it can’t be done,” Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, told lawmakers during panel discussion on SB5086.

Specifically, Benton’s bill would require the Washington State Department of Transportation to request a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration to partner with private business to operate rest areas.

If a waiver is granted, WSDOT could then pursue proposals from private groups to run rest areas. Partnerships could last up to 20 years.

“Property is a valuable asset, and DOT owns a lot of it,” Benton said.

Revenue from any partnership agreements would be routed into the state’s motor vehicle account.

Benton said the state needs to maximize taxpayer-owned assets as they look to get needed projects done.

“If we’re paying to maintain rest areas and we can get someone else to pay that money, and maybe pay us some rent along the way, then taxpayers and the traveling public benefit.”

Addressing concerns about potential negative effects for nearby businesses, Benton said they could consider giving those businesses the first opportunity to strike a deal with the state.

Since the new two-year highway bill was signed in July 2012, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been urging DOT offices around the country to make truck parking a top priority and create more parking spaces, instead of spending money to study the problem.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said it’s encouraging to see states like Washington take steps to improve the parking situation.

“If these efforts will end up increasing, or at least maintaining, parking for trucks they certainly should be encouraged,” he said.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Washington, click here.

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