PennDOT to open 13 rest areas – not good enough, OOIDA says

March 19, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said it is reopening 13 of its 30 rest areas to make them available for truck parking. The Owner-Operator Independent said that isn’t good enough.

“Following a rapid response from OOIDA and its membership, Pennsylvania plans to reopen its rest areas in some capacity,” OOIDA wrote in a Call to Action email to its more than 160,000 members. “We’re pleased they reversed course, but we are holding PennDOT accountable until they have reopened all of their rest areas. OOIDA will continue to call out those who propose policies that jeopardize the safety of truckers.”

PennDOT’s closure of rest areas took effect at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, March 17. PennDOT said the decision was in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s guidance regarding the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.

Following criticism from OOIDA, which included letters to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania lawmakers, PennDOT announced on March 18 it planned to reopen 13 of its rest areas.

Those locations:

  • Interstate 79: Crawford County NB/SB.
  • Interstate 79: Allegheny County NB only.
  • Interstate 80: Venango County EB/WB.
  • Interstate 80: Centre County EB/WB.
  • Interstate 80: Montour County EB/WB.
  • Interstate 81: Luzerne County NB/SB.
  • Interstate 81: Cumberland County NB/SB.

According to a spokeswoman at PennDOT, the rest areas are expected to be open by the end of “business hours” on March 19. She said the rest areas will be opened once the portable toilets are delivered to the sites.

“Every decision made has been in the interest of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and we are constantly reevaluating our response,” PennDOT wrote on its website. “That said, we also recognize that drivers need and deserve access to rest areas.

“In order to address safety concerns raised, PennDOT has identified 13 of its 30 rest areas that are most utilized by truckers that will be available again by (March 19). At these locations, PennDOT will be taking down the barricades on some facilities in critical locations and making them available for truck parking.”

PennDOT said five portable restrooms, including one that is ADA-accessible, will be available at each of those locations. The portable toilets will be cleaned once a day, the department said.

“Electronic message signs will be used near the applicable centers to notify drivers near the opened areas,” PennDOT wrote. “In order to prevent further spread of COVID-19, we will not be opening any of the indoor facilities, because there is no staff to keep them clean and properly sanitized. We will continue to evaluate and will determine whether additional rest areas can be reopened.”

Still not enough, OOIDA says

OOIDA said PennDOT hasn’t gone far enough.

“The news of Pennsylvania reopening less than half of its rest areas shows the state’s leadership still doesn’t understand what needs to be done to ensure the safety of truckers during a national emergency,” said Collin Long, OOIDA’s director of government affairs. “Pennsylvania officials may be trying to save face after being the only state in the country to implement such a short-sighted policy at a time like this and earn universal scorn from our industry as a result.

“Access to parking is critically important to truckers, who are currently busting their asses to meet the needs of the nation. Gov. Wolf is probably expecting kudos for opening less than half the state’s rest areas, but he won’t be getting it from OOIDA.”

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.