In January 1997, Arkansas trucker Arthur Joe Cotton was found with a bullet in his head in the bathroom of a rest area on I-40 near Morrilton. In 1996, an Illinois tourist was shot and killed after he stopped with his family at a tourist information center on I-55 near Blytheville.
Video surveillance cameras were one of the options suggested by the highway department after Cotton was killed. Other options, including hiring 24-hour security guards, were rejected as too expensive. The cameras cost $105,000. Before the cameras were installed, workers increased lighting at the interstate rest stops.
Although the cameras aren't always obvious, their presence is announced by signs. At the Social Hill rest stop along I-20, which has two cameras, a sign says, "For your safety and protection this facility is under 24-hour video surveillance."
The cameras are aimed at the outside of the restroom buildings. They pick up people going in and out of the building as well as people walking by. No one is watching the tape as it rolls, but it will be kept in case there is a reason to review it. The equipment is checked every day.
Among the rest areas that got the cameras are six that are scheduled to be closed in the future. Cameras were not installed at any of the 17 rest stops and tourist information centers on non-interstate highways.
Rest area security was a major concern addressed at the Federal Highway Administration's rest area forum in Atlanta earlier this summer.