NATSO: Jobs, Businesses Could be at Risk under Virginia Transportation Board's Rest Area Plan

April 02, 2009

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A resolution passed by the Commonwealth Transportation Board would threaten jobs, businesses and the property tax base of local governments, according to NATSO, a national trade association representing truckstop and travel plaza owners.

The board wants Congress to lift a ban on food and fuel sales at interstate rest areas. The resolution urges Gov. Tim Kaine to work with Virginia lawmakers against the federal law, which was designed to encourage investment in local communities.

Counties (such as those in Virginia) without commercialized rest areas have twice as many businesses at interstate exits than those counties with commercialized rest areas, according to a 2003 University of Maryland study. Located on the median or shoulder, commercialized rest areas operate as virtual monopolies because of their location. Any proposal to establish commercialized rest areas in Virginia would cripple many of the thousands of travel plazas, truckstops, convenience stores and restaurants in Virginia that depend on business from interstate travelers.

More than 63,000 people are employed by Virginia's 2,300 businesses at exit interchanges, the 2003 University of Maryland study revealed. According to government data released last week, nearly twice as many Virginians are without jobs than at this time last year.

"With unemployment figures continuing to rise, it is astounding that government officials would risk Virginia jobs by proposing rest area commercialization," said NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings. "The Commonwealth Transportation Board has essentially asked the governor to spend his time working to put more Virginians out of work."

Local governments would also lose under the board's plan. Particularly in rural areas, county governments need property taxes paid by businesses at interstate exits to fund schools, police and fire protection.

The board's resolution came as Virginia officials drew fire from elected officials, truckers and residents for a plan to close 25 rest areas, which would result in a loss of 412 truck parking spaces. Private businesses within ¼ mile of a Virginia highway offer an estimated 7,300 spaces for professional drivers.

"This board's resolution is not only bad policy, it is also bad math," said Mullings. "In an apparent effort to save 412 rest area parking spaces, the plan would threaten thousands of spaces at businesses directly off the highway. This is not the solution Virginia needs to keep the rest areas open."

When Congress created the Interstate Highway System, community leaders voiced concerns that the number of local businesses and jobs would shrink as motorists bypassed their towns. These leaders opposed commercialized facilities (found on state turnpikes) that stifled business development. Congress agreed, limiting the sale of food and fuel at interstate rest areas built after January 1, 1960.

"Preventing state-owned rest areas from unfairly competing with businesses near interstate exits has been an undeniable success," Mullings said. "A change in this law would threaten existing businesses that depend on sales to interstate travelers. These travel plazas, truckstops, restaurants and convenience stores employ thousands of Virginians and pay millions of dollars each year to local governments."

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