Virginia Rest Stops — Separate, Unequal and Soon Closed

Last week I was driving eastbound on Rte 66, not far from the junction with Rte 81.  By the side of the road was the familiar red brick red stop for visitors traveling through Virginia.

There was an unfamiliar sight in front of the stops:  namely a line of blue “Don’s Johns,” evidently for visitors who pull off the roadway and find out that all Virginia rest stops are recently closed by VDOT budget cuts.  So they get a Port-a-Potty instead. 

Welcome to the Commonwealth.  Ninth wealthiest state in the U.S.  Founder of American democracy.  Home of the Internet.  And unable to afford a free-standing building with toilets for weary travelers.

There are a number of culprits to this tale.  But let me settle on two:  first, the leaders in the House of Delegates who have killed all real transportation bills for the past two years and, second, the anti-Virginia policies in Washington, D.C. which discriminate against our state by forbidding rest area concessions along our U.S. highways.

The House of Delegates is known for its short-sightedness on transportation issues. 

But blaming the Feds?

Yes.  Right now, Virginia is bordered by mid-Atlantic states who charge obscene rates to travel along the Federally-funded Rte 95 corridor.  These taxes are paid by millions of Virginians every year who travel north and then return home, paying over $50 in tolls to visit Manhattan for example.  Meanwhile, we can’t open a hot dog stand.   

Let’s review the “murderer’s row” of East Coast driving:  Maryland (expensive Tollway on 95), Delaware (expensive bridge and Tollway on 95), New Jersey (expensive Tollway on 95), and New York (all of the above). 

In addition, all these states have public rest stops along Rte 95 where you eat overpriced food and have your gas pumped for you at usurious prices. 

In Virginia, we get nada.  By Federal law (which apparently excepts our northern neighbors), we can’t even open a restaurant, coffee shop or gas station at our rest stops. 

In fact, our petitions to open concessions are routinely shot down in the U.S. House Transportation Committee (most recently last week).  This despite the fact that we have millions and millions of travelers on our highways every day — in all sections of Virginia – who should be contributing to their maintenance and facilities.  At the absolute minimum, these concessions can fund the rest stops and visitors centers which promote our state’s unique heritage and tourism.

I do not understand this. 

The inequality of Federal policy begs a correction or at least an explanation from Washington D.C.  I’d sure like to hear it.  Maybe we can make extra copies and have it available for the use of our rest stop visitors this summer. 


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