Pennsylvania rest areas to reopen, PMTA says

March 18, 2020

Mark Schremmer


Only days after the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced that all of its rest areas and welcome centers would be closed to the public, the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association reported that the state plans to reopen its rest areas in some capacity.

According to the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, George McCauley, deputy secretary for PennDOT, said on Wednesday, March 18, that the department plans to reopen rest areas for truck-only parking in the next day or two.

“They are unsure whether that will include restroom and vending or keep the buildings closed and utilize port-a-potties or offer no services outside of parking,” wrote Kevin Stewart, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association. “They are looking at the high volume locations first. We continue to stress the utmost importance rest areas play in maintaining driver health and safety and will continue to press the department to open these facilities as expeditiously as possible.”

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.

Criticism from OOIDA

OOIDA quickly criticized the state for the decision and contacted lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Transportation to resolve the issue.

The Association said it is pleased to see reports that Pennsylvania plans to change course.

“The news of Pennsylvania reopening less than half it’s 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 earning 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. Governor Wolf is probably expecting kudos for opening less than half the state’s rest areas, but he won’t be getting it from OOIDA.”

On Tuesday, March 17, OOIDA sent a letter to U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, FMCSA acting Administrator Jim Mullen, and FHWA Administrator Nicole Nason in response to Pennsylvania closing its rest areas. OOIDA also sent emails to Pennsylvania lawmakers about the decision.

OOIDA said the closure sent the wrong message to millions of truck drivers.

“We are extremely disappointed by policies like the closure of rest areas, which demonstrate a lack of understanding of truckers’ needs and a worrisome disregard for their personal safety among states,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote to the DOT officials on Tuesday.

Emergency declaration

On March 14, FMCSA issued a national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency supplies in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Truck drivers are being counted on to transport medical supplies, food and other emergency-related items during the crisis.

However, the closure of Pennsylvania’s rest areas was just one example of truck drivers not being accommodated during the crisis.

OOIDA received numerous reports that shippers and receivers have been refusing to let truck drivers use their restrooms.

The American Logistics Aid Network asked thousands of U.S. businesses to help truckers as they attempt to do their jobs during the crisis.

“We are all in this fight together. We need our truckers on the roads, so our warehouses and stores and manufacturing can stay open and so that our communities get what they need,” wrote Kathy Fulton, executive director of ALAN. “At a time when our systems are so stretched and fragile, now more than ever we need to band together the disparate parts of the supply chain to ensure our country has the nourishment, hydration and medical care we need.”

Editor’s note: Check out OOIDA & Land Line’s handy reference guide that is updated throughout the day with information that all truckers need to know during the COVID-19 pandemic.