Finding a place to park at 6 pm on a Tuesday is a nightmare situation for any trucker west of West Virginia. It’s just chaos at truck stops and rest areas as big rigs roll in and drivers hope to park for the night. Truck parking comes at a huge price, one that’s too costly for truck stops to cover. The search for funding for trucker parking may have come to a halt thanks to a consideration to privatize rest areas. But is this a good idea, and what will rest areas look like after they have been commercialized?
Commercial Rest Areas
Rest areas are state-owned facilities. They range from full-scale welcome centers with gift shops to remote rest areas that are glorified port-a-potties. As a trucker you can always park at a rest area, which is vital to the safety of truck drivers. The problem is, when states are faced with budget deficits, rest areas are often at the top of the chopping block. Just last week the State of Connecticut announced it would be closing seven rest areas, which will include the long-running Danbury Welcome Center. As rest areas are shut down it leaves fewer places for truck drivers to park while over the road.
Commercialization of rest areas would allow these facilities to become for-profit establishments. When truck drivers for companies like Heartland Express, Loudon County Trucking and Marten Transport stop by they are able to rest, fuel up and purchase food. This money would be put back into paying for upgrade and upkeep up rest areas. This would also be used to pay for truck driver parking. Trucker parking lots endure a lot of weight and abuse day after day. To keep these parking lots in safe shape, so that they aren’t destroying trucks and tires, costs a lot of money. This is where commercialization is expected to save the day. But will it?
Rest area commercialization is not a new concept by any means. In order to accomplish this task, the federal government would have to overturn the law prohibiting commercialization at rest areas. This would allow state governments to have more control over economic matters. For example, rest areas could then sell food and diesel, or they could outsource the rest area to a truck stop brand with the same intentions. Yes, this would make rest areas more on par with truck stops, and you’d have to ask what the difference would be between the two. However, there is another bigger roadblock standing in the way of commercializing rest areas.
Roadblocks to Commercialization
If we allow for commercializing rest areas this will make it easier for truck drivers, and travelers alike, to access facilities for gas, food, and resting. You won’t have to wait until you reach the next exit to pull over, as you can stop at the rest area along your route. This is where the biggest issue is. When fewer people are getting off at exits to get fuel and food, they are not utilizing the other businesses there in the right-of-way.
Local economies would suffer by the rate of over $55 billion a year for stores at exits in the wake of rest area commercialization, according to the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing. This could cause detriment to local economies across the US, and be especially devastating to those small town economies that depend on truck driving fleets stopping in for fuel and food.
As it stands, commercializing rest areas will not increase the amount of money spent at highway access stores. Instead it will simply transfer the sale of goods from one point of transaction to another. Local mom and pop stores, regional businesses, and the big truck stop brands will be adversely affected if rest areas go commercial.
Commercialization a Long Haul
The fact is that yes, rest areas could be commercialized to pay for truck driver parking onsite. However, wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper and easier to give truck stops some sort of credit or benefits for improving or increasing their truck stop parking lots? After all, truck stops are set up for commercial purposes, and they have already established a system for building and maintaining trucker parking. This sounds like another deal similar to toll roads to pay for infrastructure parking. Rather than making rest areas private, we should focus on improving the existing trucking parking we already have on the ground.