States look at options to keep rest areas open

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/9/2013

Officials in multiple statehouses along the East Coast are looking for ways to address concerns about adequate funding to keep open rest areas.

In New Hampshire, a push is underway that could result in reopening rest areas closed in recent years.

The Senate Transportation Committee met to discuss a House-approved bill that would authorize the state to pursue selling sponsorships or naming rights to the 16-state-operated rest areas. In exchange, private groups would be responsible for their upkeep.

Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, told the committee that the condition of the state’s rest areas gives the state a black eye. To make matters worse, he pointed out that many facilities aren’t even open.

“This is a critical situation in the state of New Hampshire. ... Even if it’s a small amount of money that keeps one facility open half the time, it’s worth trying,” Chandler testified. “This is a small step forward that could help immediately.”

Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, expressed concern about the process the state would follow. He said there are a lot of uncertainties with the proposal that still need to be addressed.

“I think it’s a good idea. I’m just concerned it hasn’t been fully flushed out so we won’t have problems later,” Boutin said.

The bill – HB635 – would also set up a committee to study closed facilities.

A similar pursuit is underway in nearby New Jersey. One effort awaiting consideration on the Assembly and Senate floors could soon result in handing over responsibility of some rest areas around the state.

A3461/S2514 would allow private companies to sponsor rest areas and service areas in return for upkeep of the facilities. The authority to reach deals would be given to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, Department of Transportation and South Jersey Transportation Authority.

“Offering sponsorship is an opportunity that would help business and industry in the state as well as relieve a burden on taxpayers,” Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in a release.

Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, D-Cumberland, said the state must look for creative ways to capitalize on the state’s major highways to generate new revenue without raising taxes.

“In this economy, every little bit we save would make a big difference in the long run,” Riley stated.

Since the new two-year federal highway bill was signed in 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 take steps to improve the parking situation.

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