States look for alternatives to keep rest areas open

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/17/2013

State lawmakers around the country are pushing plans that address funding concerns to keep rest areas open.

In Louisiana, a bill awaiting consideration on the House floor would allow sponsorship on state-owned assets, including the state’s nine rest areas.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Leopold, R-Belle Chasse, HB386 would give the state Department of Transportation and Development the authority to charge fees for sponsorship signs on state-owned property.

Speaking at a recent hearing on the bill, DOTD’s Shawn Wilson told the House transportation committee that federal law authorizes states to provide sponsorships at rest areas.

“This bill will enable the state to take full advantage of federal opportunities to do sponsorships,” Wilson testified.

Wilson said rest areas would be “priced accordingly based on market assessment and what we see in other areas.” The revenue raised through sponsorships would stay with the rest areas.

A Michigan lawmaker is working on a bill that would use the same method to raise money to help pay for upkeep of the state’s 81 rest areas.

Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, said he would rather take advantage of the new funding method instead of once again calling for Michigan residents to pay more taxes for transportation-related purposes.

“Bottom line, before I ask our hardworking taxpayers to fork out another dime in transportation taxes, we need to take a hard look at all of our options,” Colbeck said in a news release.

Halfway through the New Hampshire statehouse is a bill that would authorize the state to pursue selling sponsorships or naming rights to the 16-state-operated rest areas.

Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, told lawmakers during recent discussion on the bill 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.”

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

Down the coast in New Jersey, a similar effort – A3461/S2514 – would give authority to reach deals 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,” stated Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.

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