UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 5, 2009

INTERSTATE HIGHWAY REST STOPS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES

Wall Street Journal - Later this month, cash-strapped Virginia plans to barricade entrances and switch off the plumbing and electricity at nearly half its highway rest areas. Other states also are lowering budgetary axes on the public pit stops that have lined the interstate highway system since its creation in 1956. . . Truckers, blind merchants and a dogged historian are fighting to preserve them. If the battle is lost, every long-distance motorist will need "a strong rear end and a strong bladder" to hit the road, warns John Townsend, an official with the American Automobile Association in Washington.

There are about 2,500 rest areas along the interstates. State governments build and maintain them. Most have remained steadfastly utilitarian: a parking lot, a simple building with toilets, a few picnic benches, and maybe some vending machines. Because many of the interstates bypassed cities and towns, travelers often had no other options when they needed to pull off the road.

But over the years, big clusters of gas stations, fast-food outlets and motels have sprung up just off interstate exits in all but the most remote parts of the country. A national directory lists nearly 2,500 privately owned truck stops, each with at least 10 parking spaces and two showers. Even Wal-Mart Stores Inc. -- which permits overnight stays by recreational vehicles at most of its more than 4,000 locations -- offers a popular alternative to old-fashioned rest areas. . .

New Hampshire was set to shutter some of its rest areas but shelved the plan a few weeks ago amid local opposition. . . A few states, particularly those still boasting wide-open spaces, are bucking the trend and have spent money on a new generation of rest-area projects. Texas shut down about half a dozen older rest areas but opened two new ones in December featuring interactive kiosks, playgrounds, surveillance cameras and a police outpost. All of the state's close to 100 rest areas have been outfitted with wireless Internet hot spots in recent years.

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