To the editor:
Bob McDonnell pledges to reopen the now 19 closed rest stops within 90 days of taking office as governor in January 2010. Not to be outdone, Creigh Deeds claims he will do it in 60 days. The Republican candidates website sports a press release outlining a four-pronged approach; the Democratic contender is mostly an echo chamber, emphasizing the enforcement of and compliance with laws requiring that truckers spend only a certain number of hours on the road. Both are primarily looking to total or partial commercialization as the vehicle to reverse Tim Kaines decision. With the recent closure of the Interstate 66 welcome center in Manassas, approximately two months after the 18 others and with less than two months remaining in the campaign, the question then becomes, roughly two months after inauguration, whats Virginia to do?
As Governor Kaine peregrinates his farewell laps around Virginia in his government limousine, and his potential successors do the same while campaigning to succeed him, they are, or should be, familiar with what facilities lie off what exits on our state roads. But for the rest of us Commonwealthers, driving to a destination within the 39,598 square miles of Virginia, or long distance travelers just passing through, entering and exiting a roadway is nothing more than a nuisance that adds only extra time and hassle to a trip. The governors targeting of the rest stops was a snubbing, snobbish affront, screaming loud and clear, I dont feel or care about your pain.
Driving for any length of time on the open highway can be tiring and mesmerizingly hypnotic truckers and regular folk alike. Was Tim Kaines plan to encourage more motorists to drive drowsily and poorly, so law enforcement could write more tickets? The rest stop closures would then help the states budget twofold: By decreasing expenditures and increasing revenues. One problem with that: Accidents. Can. Kill. Do we really want to put the lives of the citizens of Virginia, and to some extent, the country, at risk over $500,000 a year for each rest stop?
Remember why these facilities were built in the first place: Safety. If the roads arent safe, or merely perceived not to be, eventually there will be less traffic on them. The Commonwealth is not so large or isolated that you cannot Mapquest your way around it. The road less traveled needs less repair, but it also symbolizes a greater loss of commerce. At best, a win-loss situation.
Both candidates appear to recognize the above issues, or are at least giving them lip service in light of the public backlash and in an effort to get elected. But the discourse over the transportation budget still seems to be focused on roads and rail, with the human capital they serve and the needs of the here and now taking a back seat. So I ask the question again, whats Virginia to do?
Coin-operated Porta Potties every so many miles? Those quarters will add up and for motorists, it would be better than nothing. Run a Commonwealth-wide contest to decorate these monuments for contemporary times; Virginias equivalent to D.C.s Donkeys and Elephants or New York Citys Bulls and Bears. Then theyd be much prettier than mile markers, and with dual drawing power as tourist magnets. Think of it as putting lipstick on a pig, a place for safety and with good lighting … and dont forget to bolt the beauties down.
Federal law requires that rest stops cannot be commercialized unless they are located on a turnpike or toll road. Duh! Just rename the roads and/or start charging for their use (West Virginia did that) if you want to do the Reagan Republican, 1980s thing and contract them out. Its not like more toll roads arent coming somewhere down the pike anyway as a next step in making up the general budget shortfall or just paying for the infrastructure.
Lest we forget, the state built and is charged with maintaining these areas. So closing them is a lost investment of taxpayer money and there will still be the cost of minimal upkeep anyway to avoid their becoming roadside eyesores.
So why not get creative?
This state had the misfortune of not having Marylands foresight in grandfathering the commercialization of its rest stops before the federal law took effect. Oops. Louisiana has closed 24 of its 34 since 2000; they have a good excuse: Katrina. Maine, Vermont and Colorado have plans to do so; others, including Rhode Island, Indiana and Arizona are thinking about it. Depending on what happens in the Commonwealth, the movement may be gaining momentum. The slogan of our 2009 Travel Guide says, Live passionately. Before we dont have the need to print as many of them, lets find some enthusiasm for tackling the problem from a human and fiscal standpoint. For the candidates, that means blowing more than an air-kiss on the cheeks of the James River to get a vote.
Karen Ann DeLuca