Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fewer Rest Stops Add to Travel Woes

Travelers driving during the holiday will find fewer open rest stops along the highways.

Rest areas have been targeted in recent efforts to curb state spending and alleviate budget concerns. What started as a quiet trend this summer has emerged into a much larger movement. To date, a significant percentage of the approximately 2,500 rest stops along interstate highways have been shuttered. Even more stops are slated to be closed as the winter season progresses.

Georgia led the pack, shutting down two service plazas on Interstate 85 near Atlanta this summer. The state is also considering closing more, or, alternatively, keeping them open and limiting their hours of operation.

"We've just got significant budget deficits and are trying to find ways to save money,” said David Spears, press secretary for the Georgia Department of Transportation, reported the Associated Press on November 9th. Spears estimates that each closed rest area will save the state $300,000, but adds that the need for rest stops in Georgia’s rural areas is still valid.

Colorado quickly followed suit, shutting down two of its rest areas as well. The state is now considering shutting down yet another highway stop near Pueblo.

The Arizona Department of Transportation closed 13 rest areas in October, citing a budget shortfall amounting to $100 million.

Virginia is another cash-strapped state that has felt the pressure to shut down rest areas, having closed 19 of its 42 locations. The state estimates that each closed rest stop saves them close to half a million dollars. Other states that have closed stops due to budgetary concerns include: Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, and Vermont.

Other states, like Wisconsin, have managed to ward off closures by cutting back in other areas, such as hours of operation. New Mexico is keeping their rest areas open, but has closed two bathrooms due to insufficient funds.

States that are facing closures in the near future include South Carolina and Colorado.

Some feel that rest stops are no longer necessary due to the proliferation of gas stations and fast food restaurants. Even retailers, like Wal-Mart, are offering the travel-weary alternative places to stay by permitting recreational vehicles to camp out in their parking lots overnight.

Others maintain that the rest stops are vital to modern car travel.

"In a way, rest areas are something that have been taken for granted and are just there," Joanna Dowling, a cultural historian who runs the website, told the AP. "They have become this natural essential part of American travel."

The American Trucking Association is among the opponents of the recent closures, arguing that privately operated truck stops located off highway exits wouldn’t be able to cope with the excess traffic, reported the Wall Street Journal.

AAA also weighed in by pointing to data showing that 20 percent of highway car crashes involve drowsy drivers—a number that could increase due to disappearing rest stops.

"From a traffic safety standpoint, we are concerned about it,"John Townsend, manager of public relations for AAA's Mid-Atlantic Club, told the AP.

Despite current conditions, some states are bucking the trend by using stimulus money to revitalize rest areas.

Due to their wide-open spaces and distance between shops, drivers in states like Iowa, Texas, and Kentucky depend on rest stops even more than drivers passing through other states. As a result, these states have been investing in rest areas.

After shutting down almost half a dozen older rest stops, Texas opened two new locations in December of 2008 which featured interactive kiosks, playgrounds, surveillance cameras and a police outpost, reported the Wall Street Journal. Additionally, the state has continued making improvements by outfitting each of its nearly 100 rest stops with wireless Internet hot spots.

There are only two states in the Union that are totally unaffected either way—Alaska and Hawaii—both of which never had any rest stops to begin with.

Thinking of driving this holiday season? See below to find out how many are open (and how many may be closing) in your state.

Rest Stops By State

Alabama: 19 Rest Areas and 8 Welcome Centers; None closed due to budget constraints
Alaska: No rest stops
Arizona: 18 Rest Areas; 13 closed in mid-October due to budget constraints
Arkansas: 19 Rest Areas and 12 Welcome Centers; 2 Rest Areas have been closed and are now only being used for truck parking
California: 70 Rest Areas; 17 closed due to budget constraints and remodeling efforts
Colorado: 34 Rest Areas; 2 closed over the summer and another closure is being considered near Pueblo
Connecticut: 7 Rest Areas; None closed
Delaware: 2 Rest Areas; 1 currently closed for renovations
Florida: 53 Rest Areas; None closed
Georgia: 17 Rest Areas and 8 Welcome Centers; 3 closed due to budget constraints
Hawaii: No rest stops
Idaho: 29 Rest Areas; None closed
Illinois: 30 Rest Areas; None closed
Indiana: 30 Rest Areas, None closed
Iowa: 40 Rest Areas; None closed. The state is actually updating rest area facilities at the rate of one every year.
Kansas: 20 Rest Areas; None closed
Kentucky: 24 Rest Areas; None closed
Louisiana: 34 Rest Areas; 24 closed since 2000 (with 4 closed within the last year alone)
Maine: 50 Rest Areas; 2 closed along I-95 in Pittsfield due to budget constraints
Maryland: 12 Rest Areas; 3 closed due to budget constraints, modified hours and other operating changes imposed on other areas
Massachusetts: 20 Rest Areas; None closed, but 5 tourist information centers had cuts to close the state’s $600 million mid-year budget gap
Michigan: 81 Rest Areas and 14 Welcome Centers; 4 closed
Minnesota: 77 Rest Areas and 3 Welcome Centers; None closed due to budget constraints
Mississippi: 11 Rest Areas and 10 Welcome Centers; None closed
Missouri: 30 Rest Areas; None closed
Montana: 52 Rest Areas; None closed
Nebraska: 26 Rest Areas; None closed
Nevada: 10 Rest Areas; None closed
New Hampshire: 17 Rest Areas; None closed
New Jersey: 5 Rest Areas; 3 closed not due to budget constraints
New Mexico: 32 Rest Areas; 2 bathrooms were closed as a result of insufficient funds to restore them after vandalism and age
New York: 35 Rest Areas; None closed
North Carolina: 60 Rest Areas; None closed. The state recently opened an additional rest area
North Dakota: 29 Rest Areas; None closed
Ohio: 55 Rest Areas; 2 closed for reconstruction
Oklahoma: 11 Rest Areas; None closed
Oregon: 63 Rest Areas; None closed
Pennsylvania: 33 Rest Areas and 15 Welcome Centers; None closed
Rhode Island: 3 Rest Areas; None closed
South Carolina: 24 Rest Areas and 9 Welcome Centers; None closed currently, but the state may face closures in 2010
South Dakota: 22 Rest Areas; None closed
Tennessee: 32 Rest Areas; None closed. The state recently opened another rest area.
Texas: 91 Rest Areas; None closed. The state is adding more rest stops and upgrading locations
Utah: 20 Rest Areas; None closed
Vermont: 17 Rest Areas; 3 have been closed and others have had their hours cut
Virginia: 42 Rest Areas; 19 locations have been closed this year due to budget constraints
Washington: 40 Rest Areas; None closed
West Virginia: 18 Rest Areas; None closed. All locations have plans for being demolished and rebuilt in the future.
Wisconsin: 30 Rest Areas; None closed, however budget cuts have led to reduced hours at some locations
Wyoming: 18 Rest Areas; None closed

These facilities are located on the Maryland Official Highway Map and are further described as follows:

Facility Hours of Operation Location
US 219 Cove Overlook Rest Area near Keyser’s Ridge Closing the restroom facilities permanently. It is located on US 219 approximately 2.5 miles south of IS-68 in Garrett County, Maryland. The site offers spectacular views of the valley. For more information, please call 301-729-8457

I-68 Youghiogheny Overlook in Friendsville Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., no night hours. Located on eastbound I-68, 1.5 miles east of Friendsville in Garrett County, Maryland, this site offers an outstanding view of the Youghiougheny reservoir. Ph. (301) 746-5979.

I-68 Sideling Hill Rest Area Close the restroom facilities January through April. Located on I-68, approximately 10 miles west of Hancock in Washington County, Maryland. The Site offers spectacular views and geologic history of the Sideling Hill Cut. The interpretive center, located along the westbound roadway is connected to parking and restrooms for eastbound traffic by a pedestrian bridge. Ph. (301) 678-5442.

I-70 East and I-70 West Welcome Centers These centers are currently being remodeled and scheduled to reopen fall 2010. The Welcome Centers serve both eastbound and westbound traffic on I-70. They are located in a natural setting on South Mountain between Frederick and Hagerstown in Frederick County, Maryland, near the Washington County Line. Ph. I-70 West. (301) 293-4161. Ph. I-70 East. (301) 293-2526

I-95 South and I-95 North Welcome Centers Open 24 hours These welcome centers are located on Interstate Route 95 between Baltimore and Washington in Howard County, Maryland. The Southbound site serves traffic heading towards Washington D.C. and points south. Ph. (301) 490-2444. The Northbound site serves traffic heading toward the Baltimore/Annapolis area and points north. Ph. (301) 490-1333.

Crain Memorial Welcome Center Open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Located approximately two miles north of the Potomac River on northbound U.S. 301 in Charles County Maryland, this facility is the gateway into Southern Maryland from Virginia. Ph. (301) 259-2500.

US 301 Bay Country Rest Area near Centreville open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., no night hours. This site is located on U.S. 301 in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, approximately 15 miles north of its junction with U.S. 50. The facility is located in the median of U.S. 301 and serves both northbound and southbound traffic. Ph. (410) 758-6803.

US 13 North Welcome Center in Pocomoke open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., no night hours This welcome center is located on U.S. 13, northbound, just north of the Virginia State Line in Worcester County, Maryland. It is approximately four miles south of Pocomoke City and is the gateway to Maryland's lower Eastern Shore. Ph. (410) 957-2484.


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