How I See It: Shift Funding to Keep Rest Stops Open

Source: Star Exponent, Culpeper, VABy Del. Bob Marshall | R-District 13

Dear Secretary Homer:

I would like to request that you take up the question of shifting some of the available maintenance funding now allocated to various small projects around the state to reopen the rest areas that were recently closed.

Virginia’s closed rest areas should be reopened for many reasons but the most important is that there is a serious safety risk created by these closures. Rest areas are often the only place a drowsy driver can stop to rest. This particularly affects long-haul truck drivers since they are required by law to stop and rest. I believe that these rest area closures will cause many more accidents on our interstate highways. In the long run the closures will cost us more both in lives and as a result of higher need for emergency services.

AAA wrote to Congressman Frank Wolf on July 16th:

“This issue is already resonating among the motoring public and the trucking industry. In fact, a growing number of motorists have expressed alarm about the decision to close the rest areas and to cordon off their entrances.

In our view, there is no question that the safety of motorists will be negatively impacted by the closing of rest areas in Virginia. The problem goes well beyond the need to use restroom facilities. Long haul drivers need to stop to rest, drink caffeine, change drivers, etc. If they do not have a convenient option they may drive when they are too tired to do so.

Nearly one-third of drivers (28%) say that they have nodded off or fallen asleep while driving a vehicle, according to extensive research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

It is estimated that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year, resulting in an estimated 1,500 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In fact, NHTSA reports that twenty percent of crashes and twelve percent of near-crashes were caused by drowsy drivers.”

These closures are also causing Virginia to be a laughing stock around the country. I have heard from several people living in the Midwest that the call in radio shows are making a big issue of this. This negative notoriety will likely impact our tourism industry and generally is bad for the commonwealth.

I hope that you will seriously consider using a portion of the maintenance funds available to reopen the rest areas.

Marshall represents Manassas in the Virginia General Assembly.