RICHMOND, Va. — The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted Wednesday to reopen 19 highway rest stops that were closed by former Gov. Tim Kaine because of budget concerns.
The board's unanimous approval Wednesday followed a short appeal by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who made good on a promise to reopen the rest areas closed by Kaine.
The first four of the rest stops will reopen by Feb. 17. Eight more will be returned to service by March 17, and the final seven will greet visitors by April 17.
McDonnell told the board that inmate labor and private contributions would help manage the costs of reopening all 42 rest stops.
Kaine said it would take about $3 million to operate the rest stops through the rest of the state fiscal year that ends June 30, and about $7.5 million to run them for the full fiscal year after that, cash hard to find in a shrinking transportation budget.
The $3 million for unshuttering the derelict rest stops and returning them to use by June comes from money left over in some reserve highway maintenance accounts.
McDonnell said he put restoring the rest stops atop his to-do list because it sends a bad signal to businesses considering locations in Virginia.
"One reason is I said I was going to do it within 90 days and it will start within about 30 days. Second, there are very few things I have heard more about in the last six months that have been a source of discontent and inconvenience to the citizens than not being able to access those rest stops," McDonnell said after delivering his charge to the 18-member board, most of them Democratic appointees.
"For travelers to come to Virginia and see tape across the entrance to the rest stop and a big closed sign, it's a bigger sign that Virginia is closed for business," McDonnell said.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) expressed “heartfelt gratitude” to McDonnell for convincing the Commonwealth Transportation Board to reopen the rest stops.
Todd Spencer, Executive Vice President of OOIDA, said the announcement was great news for truckers and motorists traveling through the state of Virginia.
In a news release, OOIDA stated that “research has shown there is already a shortage of parking available, public or private, for the amount of freight traffic traveling throughout Virginia. Therefore, closing the rest areas presented a dangerous situation for all who travel throughout the state.”
“This is absolutely great news and shows that the new governor is committed to promoting highway safety,” added Spencer.
The board is little changed from the one that voted last June to close the stops as part of a deep swath of cost-cutting forced by a $2.6 billion transportation funding gap over the next six years. Each rest stops costs about $500,000 a year to maintain and keep open.
New faces on the board are new Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, interim Transportation Commissioner Gregory A. Whirley and former U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake, now director of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation. They replaced Kaine appointees to the same jobs whose tenure expired by Saturday, when Kaine's term ended.
Kaine's critics, including McDonnell and other Republicans, derided the decision to shut down the rest stops as a publicity ploy intended to drive home a political message rather than accrue significant savings. Since he took office in 2006, Kaine had twice called theGeneral Assembly into special session to enact new funding sources for highway construction necessary to alleviate longstanding gridlock in urban areas. Both efforts failed.
"I thought it was really just a question of leadership," McDonnell said, lauding Connaughton for putting together a package to reopen the rest stops in just four days and summoning board members to Richmond to vote on it.
The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.