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Virginia Vs. The Call Of Nature

Virginia may be for lovers, but it's not being terribly friendly to other calls of nature. When travelers along the commonwealth's Interstate highways gotta go, they may soon find shuttered facilities.

The reeling economy is forcing some drastic budget cuts, and some genius in the state's transportation department decided a good way to save $12 million would be to shut down 25 rest stops along major roads such as I-95, I-66 and I-81. All six rest stops located in northern Virginia would shut down (so much for the Richmond crowd's supposed new, inclusive attitude toward the state's most populous region).

Along I-95, the state proposes to close six rest stops and keep open only three. On I-81, the busy, truck-heavy north-south route along Virginia's central spine, 11 rest stops would close, while three would remain open.

State transportation officials argue that rest stops aren't as essential in urban areas because alternatives bathrooms exist off the highway. That's certainly true during the workday, but as many truckers argue, it becomes much dicier at night, when many businesses are closed. The truckers also say the proposed state cuts come at a time when many commercial truck stops and restaurants are shutting down, creating a potential double whammy that would make the roads more dangerous because drivers would feel compelled to keep on trucking even when they're tired, hungry or feeling the call of Mother Nature.

The art of budget-cutting is not a simple one, and often what appears to be an easy slice turns out to result in additional expenses in another line item. If shutting down rest stops makes it more likely that the state will have to respond to more accidents, certainly any savings will quickly vanish. Think of the highly popular and successful programs many states run on New Year's Eve and on holiday weekends, offering long-distance motorists free coffee or a safe place to take a roadside nap--lose those and someone's going to be paying more hospital bills, and that someone is named John Q. Public.

Short-sighted cuts are always part of any government's initial flurry of reactions to the need to slash the budget. Sometimes, the proposals are just meant to scare taxpayers and politicians into restoring the budget, and sometimes they're just genuinely bad ideas. That's what this one sounds like.

VDOT is holding a series of public hearings on the proposed budget cuts, including one session in northern Virginia, April 1 at 6 p.m. at Fairfax City Hall. A decision will be made in June and if approved, the cuts would take effect in July.

By Marc Fisher |  March 18, 2009; 8:29 AM ET
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My Pee Pee BottleĀ® is a Simple On-The-Go Potty. Problem solved.

Posted by: nosurprise2me | March 18, 2009 10:29 AM

Closing 25 Rest Stops would save $12million?

Holy cow. The Commonwealth would be better served in solving her money woes by figuring out exactly how they can spend $500,000 a year *per* Rest Stop.

Apparently "Rest Stop Janitor" is a Goldmine of a gig and I had no clue!

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 18, 2009 10:50 AM

That sucks. I used to commute from Alexandria to Stafford and there were many times I had to stop at the rest stop on 95. Especially if I got stuck in construction work/lane closures/behind an accident.

Posted by: kallieh | March 18, 2009 10:52 AM

What a bunch of dorks in the Virginia Transportation Dept. They must all come from way below Northern VA. Where the heck is Lambsburg, Jerry's Run, and Skippers and of what economic value are they to the Commonwealth? Am I the only person in NOVA who has not heard of these places?

Posted by: OHREALLYNOW | March 18, 2009 11:03 AM

Wouldnt it be more practical to, instead of closing to save money, install money-making opportunities at rest stops, like food vendors or others?

Posted by: Comunista | March 18, 2009 11:33 AM

If the Virginia legislature is going to rely on businesses to provide facilities along the highway (particularly for children) then they need to pass legislation making it mandatory for businesses to allow access to their bathroom facilities for those in need, without making a purchase. I do not want to repeat the experience of desperately searching for a restroom for a small boy after having been denied access by a buisness that had one but refused to allow us to use it *even after we had made a purchase*. Without such a measure busiensses are not a reliable substitute for a rest-stop.

Posted by: jhaskett2002 | March 18, 2009 11:49 AM

Where is it more important to have a rest stop? In an urban area where traffic is heavier and services are farther from the highways? Or in more rural parts of Virginia where every ten miles there is an exist with a gas station and a McDonald's? Virginia should at least maintain the standards of neighboring states, and that certainly requires more than three rest areas on I-95.

Posted by: rnorwood01 | March 18, 2009 11:49 AM

Stupid, short-sighted--and sexist.

This is a serious inconvenience to male travelers, but I'm a woman who frequently travels long distances alone by car at night. By closing these rest stops, the Commonwealth is endangering me and other women solo drivers in multiple ways: we no longer have a safe place to use a rest room (and good luck finding any other open restrooms in, say, Mecklenburg County at 2 a.m.), but we also have no place safe to stop and take a nap if we get sleepy.

Women traveling alone are vulnerable in ways men are not, something our male-dominated government seems to have overlooked (again). I can predict the results: more accidents, yes; but also more crimes including rapes, assaults, and muggings against women travelers who will have to venture into unsafe areas late at night to meet their most basic needs.

Posted by: JJinArlington | March 18, 2009 11:51 AM

The time has come for Virginia north of the Rapahannock to break off and find it's own way. That sort of thinking has a long history here.

Posted by: reddragon1 | March 18, 2009 12:12 PM

As someone who used to travel alot, those rest stops were a welcome sight. This is just another example of the bass-ackwards attitude of the people that run this state, and while I understand the economy is in the toilet right now, there has to be an alternative, right?

Posted by: Rushfan1 | March 18, 2009 12:22 PM

"Wouldnt it be more practical to, instead of closing to save money, install money-making opportunities at rest stops, like food vendors or others?"

If you're suggesting that Virginia convert the rest areas to "service areas" of the sort you see on the New York Thruway or the New Jersey Turnpike, the answer is that Virginia can't do that. A federal law prohibits businesses (restaurants, gas stations, etc.) from having "direct access" to an Interstate Highway, and a service area is considered "direct access." The toll roads (primarily in the Northeast) that have these are permitted to keep them because they already had them (or they were already being built) when the Interstate Highway System was created, so they were grandfathered in.

Of course the law could, in theory, be changed, but you'd see some EXTREMELY stiff opposition from truck stop operators and from anyone else running businesses at interchanges.

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 18, 2009 12:27 PM

Marc -

Yes, technically, three rest stations are remaining open on I-81.

However, for those of you who didn't look at the map, that would be the welcome center at Bristol and a rest stop only a few miles away in Abingdon (both Northbound)....and then the Welcome Center in Winchester (Southbound)

You're looking at 320+ miles of Interstate with no state-sponsored rest stops. And hey, for someone who went to JMU and whose brother went to the vet school at VT? That's a LONG stretch of road where there aren't that many places for trucks to pull over.

I'm noting, though, that 64 - a road that serves Richmond quite well - has retained well spaced rest stops. Including both Eastbound and Westbound stops in Charlottesville (where, hey, there's life and actual places to pull over).

Where the hell are the reps for SW and Northern Virginia here? What the hell is Richmond smoking, or is that where all the corrupt execs who have no sense of the real world have run (wasn't one of them found in the general vicinity recently, while avoiding his arrest warrant)? 'Cause they share the same, narrow, parochial thought processes that Richmond does, that's for sure.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | March 18, 2009 12:49 PM

New Jersey proposed the same thing on I-295 a couple of years back and compromised by keeping the rest area buildings open from 8AM to 8PM and having portapotties available the rest of the time.

Posted by: ramgut | March 18, 2009 1:38 PM

Not sure what you're talking about. MD has 2 services areas on a portion of I-95 that's not a toll road.

Posted by: QDog | March 18, 2009 1:38 PM

This is just bogus. I suppose that I'll just have to go back to pulling over on the side of the road and running up into the tree line, like I used to do back in the 60's and 70's.

If any business refuses to allow me use of their bathroom even after making a purchase, I'm going pee on their front door step. You interchange businesses are warned.

This is just one more straw on the camel's already broken back. It is time for the NoVa to secede from the Commonwealth.

Posted by: JoStalin | March 18, 2009 1:41 PM

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