...We Can Keep the Rest Areas Open!
RICHMOND- One day before Virginia begins to shutter eighteen safety rest stops and one welcome center statewide, Bob McDonnell, Republican gubernatorial nominee and former Attorney General of Virginia, announced his support for prompt, proactive and creative measures to keep the facilities open. McDonnell further pledged that if the rest stops are closed, he will open them back up within 90 days of taking office as governor in January 2010. Eighteen interstate-highway safety rest areas are set to close tomorrow, and the Interstate 66 West Welcome Center at Manassas will close on September 16th, due to budget choices made by the Kaine administration.McDonnell called for a series of steps to be taken, all of which would help keep the rest stops open to the benefit of motorists, public safety, and Virginia's tourism and hospitality industry.
Specifically McDonnell proposes the following:
· The immediate creation of an "Adopt a Safety Rest Stop" program with Virginia businesses, community and civic organizations, modeled on the successful "Adopt a Highway" initiative, to help keep the safety rest stops open in the near term, without providing commercial services. Leaders of the Virginia Business Council have already been contacted and have indicated their willingness to help fund rest stop operations in the near term to help the State.
· The General Assembly must explore creative financing structures to fund rest stop operations and maintenance during the 2010 session, and engage the private sector in new partnerships.· Governor Kaine and the Virginia Department of Transportation should promptly construct a more limited budget for rest stop operations, below the current 9 million dollar annual budget. We must work with local sheriffs, community corrections officers, as well as the state DOC to explore the feasibility of landscaping and clean-up of rest areas as an option for those currently sentenced to community service or eligible for work release programs. Many non-violent offenders are already successfully assigned to roadside clean-up work crews around the state.
· The CTB budget should be reprioritized to allocate the necessary money to keep the rest stops open. Speaking about his proposals McDonnell noted, "Any person, whether a candidate for statewide office or a parent who has been on a family vacation, can tell you about the importance of Virginia's rest stops. Our rest stops provide a safe place for truckers and motorists to rest, and serve as information centers for tourists looking to find out about Virginia's many attractions.
Shutting down Virginia's rest stops will negatively impact motorists, impair public safety, weaken our tourism industry, and slap a "Closed" sign on the Commonwealth. That's not what Virginia needs right now."McDonnell continued, "With the rejection of recent efforts in Congress to seek a waiver from federal regulations prohibiting the commercialization of our rest stops, it appears this administration is content to let our rest stops be shuttered tomorrow. We should not give up on this issue so quickly. We can still fix this problem. By being creative, working across party lines, making rest stop safety a priority, and involving the private sector, we can keep our rest stops open for the benefit of all motorists and the entire Commonwealth. We should initiate an "Adopt a Rest Stop" program to be funded by private sector companies, wherein they would sponsor the continuing operation of a rest stop by the Commonwealth. You can "Adopt a Highway" why not "Adopt a Rest Stop"? I will contact members of the Virginia Business Council, an organization comprised of the Commonwealth's largest corporate citizens, and ask for their immediate assistance in keeping the rest areas open in the short term. There are also ways to construct a more limited budget to keep the rest stops open that should be explored fully."McDonnell also stated, "I refuse to believe that we can't work together to make sure our highways stay safe and Virginia stays "open" to travelers, truckers and everyday motorists. And I make this pledge. If the rest stops do close tomorrow, and remain dark in the months ahead, that will end when I am elected governor. I will work with the General Assembly to find a way to fund the operation of these facilities. And within 90 days of my taking office all 19 rest stops will be open again. We have a two-year budget of nearly $80 billion. To keep the rest stops open we need $9 million, or less if we get smart about how we manage things in Richmond. We can do this. It just takes commitment and creativity."Rest stops play an important role in keeping Virginia's highways safe. They provide a secure location for weary travelers and truckers to rest, reducing the number of accidents. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Board, driver fatigue results in 100,000 accidents and 1,500 deaths a year in the United States. Studies show that truck-driver fatigue could be a factor in up to 40 percent of truck crashes, and night-time truck crashes increase when the distance between rest areas increases. Rest stops also play an important economic role in Virginia, as they are a place where out of state travelers can pick up promotion sources for the tourism and hospitality industries. Further, according to a recent article in the Richmond Times Dispatch, the closing of the safety rest stops and welcome centers will mean 209 contract workers and 3 welcome-center employees will be laid off, and the state will lose about $800,000 in revenue from vending machines.