Closing Highway Rest Areas a Dangerous Proposal

A proposal to close eight highway rest areas in Connecticut to save $20 million could cost much more in safety.

Patch.com reports that Connecticut State Representative Kim Fawcett has recommended the state close its “publicly owned and operated rest areas” considering “the goal of rest areas, the cost, and the number of users.”

I have been to these rest areas before and can verify that they serve as important “safety breaks” for residents, tourists, and truckers. All three groups use the rest area as a point to get out of their vehicles, get some fresh air, use the restroom, perhaps take a nap, and move on to their destination.

At night, I have seen tractor trailers regularly use all legal truck parking spaces at these rest areas. They even park illegally along on and off ramps of the rest areas due to the shortage of parking.

If these rest areas were closed, 222 “legal” truck spaces and 42 legal auto spaces would be eliminated, the CT Rest Area Study reports.

The report also states that based on demand for these rest areas, there already is a shortage of 307 truck spaces.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Board “driver fatigue results in 100,000 accidents and 1,500 deaths a year in the United States.”

The newspaper cites the AAA which stated that 28 percent of drivers have reported falling asleep while driving.

Interestingly enough, in polls taken at rest areas by the CT Rest Area Study; 22% of respondents at rest areas said they stopped to rest or sleep while 25% stopped for food and drink and 86% stopped to use the restroom.

Fawcett’s proposal would close four Interstate 84 rest areas on West Willington (WB and EB), Danbury (EB), and Southington (EB) along with two Interstate 91 rest areas in Wallingford (SB) and Middletown (NB) and two Interstate 95 rest areas in North Stonington (SB) and Westbrook (SB). Doing this would remove all highway rest areas from Interstates 84 and 91 and close down two rest areas from the busy Interstate 95.

While facilities with staffed welcome center components include West Willington, Danbury, North Stonington and Westbrook; all include areas where visitors can pick up tourist literature or look at a large state map. Most are located in Eastern Connecticut (North Stonington, Westbrook, West Willington, Middletown, and Wallingford) which has the most tourism in Connecticut

All of these 24-hour Connecticut rest areas have public restrooms, pay phones, water fountains, vending machines, picnic areas, and parking. Some feature RV hookup dump sites, pet walking areas, and separate areas for automotive and truck parking.

None of the small rest area buildings feature retail, food, or fuel services and vary in size between 1,500 to 3,000 square feet.

I recommend Mrs. Fawcett appeal to our federal delegation to allow an exemption for rest area commercialization on the basis of hardship for the state to maintain these areas.

The Carlyle Group, who, according to the CT Service Plaza Website, is in the $178 million process of redoing the state’s 23 service plazas with food, retail, and fuel services, should be given the offer to rent or purchase these rest areas and add additional food and fuel services.

Service plazas that will be renovated include ones on I-395 in Montville and two in Plainfield along with ones on I-95 including two in Madison and two in Branford.

“The closure of the rest areas was only proposed as a worst case scenario if the Governor was unsuccessful in securing major concessions from state employee unions. Therefore, it seems to be off the table,” said Rep. Tom Reynolds, who represents the 42nd district, consisting of Ledyard, Preston, and Montville. Reynolds responded to an e-mail questioning the rest area closures.

However, as the state waits to hear if the unions will vote in the new contract, “seems to be off the table” could very well be placed back on the table.

Works Cited:

Blackwell, John Reid. “States Should Re-think Rest Stop Closures, AAA says”. 7/16/2009. Richmond Times-Disptach. http://www2.timesdispatch.com/business/2009/jul/16/rest16_20090715-223205-ar-37160/