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Potty Politics, Part II

Amy Gardner

Even as the clock ticks down on the life of 18 rest stops set to close tonight across Virginia, lawmakers, statewide officials and even political candidates are weighing in.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) worked the ranks of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation pretty heavily on Friday, trying to attach an amendment to this year's transportation spending bill that would allow Virginia to privatize its rest stops. The move would have kept the facilities open -- and opened them up to the Sbarros, Starbucks and Cinnabons that we all know and love on our journeys through Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

Enter the fast-food lobby, which pressured members of the subcommittee to leave well enough alone so as not to kill the McDonald's and Wawa franchisees with strategic locations just off some of the exit ramps of Virginia's federal highway system. It's a reasonable discussion point: Should the state take business away from private business operators?

State Del. Bob Marshall, meanwhile, spent much of Saturday (and today) at the rest stop on Interstate 66 near Manassas asking travelers how they feel about the pending shuttering of nearly half of the state's 40-something rest areas. (Answer: not good). Marshall has good reason to feel pretty strongly about the issue: his son died on Interstate 81 after rear-ending a tractor-trailer parked along the side of the road for lack of a safer place to stop.

Back on Capitol Hill, there was some grumbling that Gov. Tim Kaine (D) didn't ask for the amendment until Thursday, giving federal lawmakers too little time to go to bat for him. Kaine, let's remember, is juggling duties as governor and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and he has taken some heat for traveling to California last week to attend the annual ESPY Awards ceremony. On Thursday, he was in Colorado for a DNC fundraiser.

There was also some grumbling that Kaine was unwilling to take the $9 million needed to keep the facilities open from other parts of the transportation budget -- notably, the from the budget for paving and bridge maintenance.

On that issue, administration officials said they are unrepentent. (They also said the governor's travel schedule had nothing to do with the failure of the rest stop amendment.)

Meanwhile, the word this evening is that an attempt will be made to amend the transportation spending bill on the floor of the U.S. House on Tuesday.

By then, the barricades will already be up across the commonwealth.

By Amy Gardner  |  July 20, 2009; 7:45 PM ET
Categories:  Amy Gardner  
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Of course the politicos want the rest stops open. Where else would they go for their gay sex?

Posted by: BO_Stinks | July 21, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

"Marshall has good reason to feel pretty strongly about the issue: his son died on Interstate 81 after rear-ending a tractor-trailer parked along the side of the road for lack of a safer place to stop."

Certainly a tragic accident and we can all empathize. Are you saying there weren't enough rest stops before they closed them? There are lots of truck stops on I-81 for long distance drivers - maybe this guy was just too cheap.

Posted by: mcmitaly | July 21, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

This is a helpful news report on the political tactics and next steps.

On the basic issue, Virginia is out of money for paving and road repairs as it is. Major repair and upkeep services are being pared back or are stretched to the limit. That money is not available for the rest stop funding. We need to let the rest stops support themselves the same way they do in other states.

I feel bad about the nearby Wawas, McDonalds, and others who currently benefit from the lack of adequate tourist restaurants at the rest stops. However, they knew this was a risk when they started those businesses, harsh as that may seem. And keeping the rest stops shuttered just to support those businesses is not in the public's best interest. It is surely safer to stop on the interstate and have a meal than to exit and re-enter, often traveling some distance on local roads. And without money to keep the rest stops open, other dangers emerge. It's a tradeoff that has to be made in favor of the rest stops, for public safety and traveler convenience.

In a sense you can compare the Wawas and other restaurants who will be harmed by this with the defense workers who will be harmed by the necessary end to the wasteful F22 program. The workers don't deserve to lose their jobs and the restaurants don't deserve to lost their business, but the larger policy decisions can't just be driven by how it will affect them, when there other pros and cons to consider.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | July 21, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Many studies have shown a lack of rest areas for truckers, and this will just make things worse. We drove up I-77 and I-81 from NC this weekend, and most of the rest stops along there are being closed. They were all chock-full of trucks. Yes, there are truck stops at some exits, but probably not enough. I can get off and use a McDonald's for bathroom and food stops; a trucker usually is not welcome to take a sleep break there.

Posted by: suevee | July 21, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Safe transportation is one of the few government functions, as opposed to things like universal health care and giving people $4500 to trade in their clunkers. Rest stops help prevent unsafe driving.

The real issue is Governor kaine jet-setting around the country, working for the DNC, instead of governing!!!! Have you been to a VA DMV lately? The services are atrocious! I had to go back to the DMV 3 times because the new photo license machines were broken. Thank goodness kaine is lame duck and out of office this year. We need someone who takes their governship seriously, and not someone looking for national limelight. good riddance kaine!!

Posted by: jim000122 | July 21, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

If Creigh Deeds campaigns on this, he wins the election.

No doubt.

Posted by: bs2004 | July 21, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Most people stop at rest stops to PEE.


So no, it ISN'T a reasonable "discussion point" because it MISSES the whole point.

Posted by: solsticebelle | July 21, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

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