The National Journal Transportation Expert Blog this week asked whether states should be allowed to commercialize rest stops. I thought this was a timely question, and responded with the following:
The upcoming reauthorization will present an excellent opportunity for Congress to rethink its outdated blanket prohibition on the commercialization of state-owned safety rest stops.
This is no longer simply a question of who gets to sell fast food to weary travelers. The question is: how will we maintain our interstates to truly serve motorists’ changing needs at a time when increasing funding shortfalls and skyrocketing liability concerns are causing states to close existing rest areas in unprecedented numbers?
A more nuanced balancing of interests seems overdue.
As just one example of how these rest stops might be valuably utilized without impinging on off-right of way private sector services, the Pacific Coast states (California, Oregon, and Washington) are trying to ensure the availability of alternative fuels along the I-5 corridor from British Columbia to Baja California, one of USDOT-designated critical corridors of the future. A backbone like this would serve to jumpstart the development of a wider distribution network essential to spur a wider acceptance of alternative fuels vehicles in passenger and freight fleets and consequently substantially reduce emissions. Private fuel distribution networks will be less likely to make this investment in advance of a large customer base demanding the service.
There are other examples of how the use of rest areas within the interstate system should be allowed, while at the same time protecting the many excellent and important businesses off-right of way currently serving the traveling public. It is increasingly clear that a black and white policy, based upon 1950’s definitions of commercial activity, no longer reflects an optimal transportation policy combination of technology. In key areas policy appears to be unnecessarily protecting businesses at the expense of innovative and integrated ideas for the future of our transportation infrastructure.
Founder and former chairman of Nossaman’s Infrastructure Group, Geoffrey Yarema has spent more than three decades developing national best practices for innovative procurement, contracting and financing structures that ...
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