ATA: VDOT’s Proposal to Close Rest Areas Threatens Motorist Safety

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) proposed plan to close 25 of the state’s 41 Interstate Highway rest areas poses a significant safety risk to motorists, American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Bill Graves said.

"It is simply beyond comprehension that Virginia would be willing to put lives at risk in order to balance the Commonwealth's budget," Graves said in a recent letter to Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. Rest areas are important for the safety of average motorists and professional truck drivers alike. Both need a safe location to park, said Graves, who served for 8 years as governor of Kansas.

"As a former Governor, I can appreciate the difficult choices you have to make during these tough economic times," Graves wrote. But, even before the rest area closings, VDOT had publicly recognized that Virginia is "deficient in providing adequate parking for commercial vehicles, especially along the I-95 and I-81 corridors."

Virginia's rest areas play a critical role in preventing driver fatigue and also provide the accommodations necessary for motorists to tend to personal needs while on the road. Closing rest areas would encourage drivers to make stops along the shoulders of the highways, a dangerous practice.

Removing safety rest stations also hinders truck drivers' ability to meet federal hours of service regulations and causes unsafe situations for all motorists on the road. Eliminating nearly all of Virginia's rest areas in major truck corridors along I-81 and I-95 may also have a negative effect on the movement of consumer goods as motor carriers find alternative routes with better accommodations.

"Gov. Kaine, the trucking industry today has the lowest fatality rate since records began being kept in 1975. This achievement was possible only through a cooperative relationship between the trucking industry and our public sector partners. It would be a shame to squander these hard-won gains due to a temporary lack of resources," Graves wrote.

VDOT Public Meetings

VDOT is hosting 11 public meetings across the commonwealth in March and early April to collect public input on the plan to address long-term funding reductions, which may affect rest areas, safety service patrols, roadside maintenance and more.

In February, VDOT announced that it will cut 1,000 full-time and 450 part-time staff in its construction development program, field operations and administrative functions, and will close 15 residency offices and 36 equipment repair facilities around the commonwealth in the next 18 months.

“Federal and state revenue sources continue to steeply decline, forcing the VDOT to adjust its construction program, services and organization,” said David S. Ekern, VDOT commissioner, in a statement regarding the public meetings. “We are committed to discussing any changes that will impact our customers prior to finalizing our decisions, so we will host these meetings to gather public feedback on our proposed plans.”
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