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Less Rest For Highway Travelers in Virginia

The closing of 18 highway rest areas in the commonwealth starts tonight. Drivers will see orange barrels at the entrance and exit ramps to these former facilities.

In Northern Virginia, that means no more stopping at the Dale City areas on Interstate 95. The Manassas rest area on I-66 eastbound also is closing tonight. The one on the westbound side, which also is a Welcome Center for tourists, gets a temporary reprieve, but only to serve out the summer vacation season. That area will close on Sept. 16.

The rest areas at Dale city for truckers will remain open. The Virginia Department of Transportation says they are heavily used and there are few alternatives for truckers in the area.

This is all part of a state plan to address VDOT's budget shortfall. It's probably the aspect of the budget cutting plan that has gotten the most attention, but there's also this: Reductions over the next six years of $2 billion to the construction program, $391 million to administrative and support programs, and a total of $348 million in the maintenance and operations program. The staff cuts amount to 1,000 full-time employees and 450 part-time employees.

That's a lot of road-making and maintaining. But the rest stop issue is so easy to understand, and so visible. The VDOT announcement sounds like they're selling the state for scrap: People already in rest areas tonight will be allowed to remain until they finish their rest. Once rest areas are clear of motorists, crews will block the exit ramps. VDOT will also change Interstate signs to indicate that the rest areas are closed and will adjust signs that guide motorists to the next available facility. (See a map here.) Electronic message signs will be used to warn motorists the areas are closed.

Crews will then begin disconnecting utilities, removing equipment, supplies and fixtures that can be reused in the 23 facilities that will remain open. They will mothball the closed facilities. Eventually, workers will install large metal gates across entrance and exit ramps.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 20, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Driving , highways  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, VDOT, Virginia rest areas, interstates, summer travel  
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Comments

That's the best idea they could come up with? They do realize that there are very few 24 hours stores with bathrooms in this area, right?

Posted by: EricS2 | July 20, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Sad and unfortunate. But it is a sign of the times I suppose.

Along I-95 between DC and Richmond, especially south of Fredericksburg, there are plenty of 24 hour gas stations and truck stops. At the truck stops, the rest rooms are actually pretty clean. I often stop at the Flying J off of Exit 104, and an added bonus is that the gas is dirt cheap (at least 30 cents cheaper than Fairfax County). Up in NOVA, the majority of traffic is local traffic, not long distance traffic, so providing a rest area is less important than on rural interstates.

One thing I don't understand though, is why they can't simply "combine" the Dale City truck and car rest areas? Always seemed silly to me to have seperate rest areas for cars and trucks, when most other rest areas are open to all. If they could simply carve out a few car parking spaces in the truck rest areas, everyone can rest and VDOT gets to close 2 facilities and save the associated costs. They could mark some of the spaces as car parking during the day (for tourists who typically travel during the day) and truck parking at night (when trucks need the rest areas for their required safety breaks).

Posted by: thetan | July 20, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

The truck rest area on I-95 is separate primarily because it is attached to a weigh station. I suppose it's understandable why they don't want non-truck traffic mixing in at the weigh station, although there is a road that allows you to bypass the scales. I wonder if we'll start seeing car drivers pulling into that truck rest area now. The queue for the scales can get quite long at times.....

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 20, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

I just went and took a look at the map, and I'm glad to see they revised it.

When this was first announced, they had closed all but the entrance rest stops for I-81. That would have been so convenient for the truckers that use I-81 to get up and down the East Coast, not to mention students, families and visitors to those little podunk schools JMU, Virginia Tech, VMI and the several decent private schools that line 81 (and to a certain extent, UVA as well, depending upon what part of the state you are coming from).

Northbound is still better served than southbound (because no one apparently drives south on 81 from Northern Virginia), but it's an improvement. Also an improvement is the closing of one set of rest stops outside Richmond on 64. 64 is still uncommonly well served, though, I think - so odd it's one of the bigger roads through Richmond.

I'm still baffled about the closure of the Alberta stations around mile 32 because they are surrounded by "urban fringe". Alberta and its surrounds is SUCH a booming metropolis-like area, unlike poor, tiny, insignificant Charlottesville. Which retained both its east and west bound stations, as it is a "weather refuge" (we know people have been stranded and resorted to cannibalism on the snowy Appalachian 81 stretch) and there are "limited" services. Or is it that Charlottesville didn't want trucks on its scenic roads?

(see http://maps.google.com/maps?q=alberta,+va&ie=UTF8&ll=36.871656,-77.854614&spn=0.125516,0.220757&t=h&z=12 for the urban area that is Alberta, VA)

95 (especially southbound) however, is still really screwed. The savvy will know to get off at Potomac Mills, stretch their legs and have lunch when leaving or approaching NoVa. To those out of state travelers though, it's just not gonna be pretty.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | July 21, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I think the "weather refuge" refers to all the accidents that have occurred on Afton Mountain.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 21, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

BTW, forgot to add, I've been up and down I-85 many times and the only thing I can theorize is that the "urban fringe" referenced as to the Alberta rest stops is South Hill. I wouldn't consider South Hill an "urban" area. But it's only around 30 miles to the North Carolina welcome center going south, and going north the Virginia welcome center is nominally closer than that.

Posted by: 1995hoo | July 21, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Basically, from the perspective of someone who goes between NC Maryland on 85-95, the only VA rest stop left worth mentioning is the welcome center on northbound 85. Everything else is gonna be gone.

VA makes itself even more useless.

Posted by: tegularius | July 21, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I fully agree with closing some rest areas on I-85. There is really no need for 3 pairs of rest areas between Petersburg and the NC border, which is barely over 60 miles. I would have preferred that they kept one of the two sets open though. The middle set, there is nothing there. The northern set is right near Petersburg, though I'd personally stop north of Petersburg near Colonial Heights just because Petersburg isn't a very nice area.

On I-95, the set near Ladysmith...there are truckstops at Exit 104, and 24 hour gas stations at Exit 110. The NOVA rest areas are right near Dale City/Potomac Mills...plenty of options there. Ditto with Manassas on I-66 and the Sudley Road or Gainesville exits. So it will be inconvenient, but not the end of the world.

I did hear rumors that both McDonnell and Deeds are saying they would re-open them if elected. Lets just hope VDOT doesn't take them apart too much in the meantime.

Posted by: thetan | July 21, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

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