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.
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