Potty Politics, Part II
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.
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