Pennsylvania's abrupt closure earlier this week of all of its roadside rest areas in response to the Coronavirus outbreak drew an outcry from trucking. Now, the state will reopen some areas along busy interstate routes.
According to news outlets in Pennsylvania, including the Pittsburg Post-Gazette and Philadelphia Inquirer, two days after the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed 30 public rest stops around the state, the agency decided to reopen the 13 busiest areas by Thursday.
According to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, the decision comes after complaints from the trucking industry and several elected officials, including state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry.
“Every decision made has been in the interest of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and we are constantly reevaluating our response,” PennDOT spokeswoman Alexis Campbell said in an email to the Post-Gazette Wednesday. “That said, we also recognize that drivers need and deserve access to rest areas.”
According to news reports, the stops that will reopen are on Interstate 81, north and southbound stops in Luzerne and Cumberland counties; on Interstate 79, north and southbound stops in Crawford County and the northbound stop in Allegheny County; and on Interstate 80, east and westbound stops in Venango, Centre and Montour counties.
At these locations, PennDOT will take down the barricades and make facilities available for truck parking. Portable restroom facilities will be available at these locations; each location will have five portable toilets (one of which is ADA-accessible) that will be cleaned once a day. Electronic message signs will be used near the applicable centers to notify drivers near the opened areas.
Campbell told the Post-Gazette indoor facilities will not be open at the rest stops because PennDOT doesn’t have staffing available to keep them sanitized to prevent the spread of the virus. The department will continue to monitor conditions to determine whether other sites can be reopened.
Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the group was pleased with the reversal.
“We encouraged Gov. Tom Wolf and PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian to open all the state's rest areas the moment we learned of the closures ordered and so we certainly welcome this latest decision,” Taylor said in an email to the Post-Gazette. “Hopefully other states will refrain from implementing similar, short-sighted policies. And we'll continue to call out those who propose policies that jeopardize the safety of truckers and the motoring public.”