Report: Time to end ban on commercial services at rest areas

April 9, 2021

Greg Grisolano

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A 21st-century interstate highway system “should have state-of-the-art service plazas in addition to new pavement, improved bridges, and redesigned and rebuilt interchanges in many urban areas.”

Now, thanks to a confluence of factors that includes the ELD mandate, the truck parking shortage, and the coronavirus, momentum may finally be building to repeal the commercial services ban at interstate rest areas, a new policy paper from The Reason Foundation argues.

The Reason Foundation is a libertarian think tank based in Los Angeles. It contrasts the amenities offered on toll-revenue financed corridors like the New York Thruway, the Ohio Turnpike, and the Indiana Toll Road, where “large commercial service plazas are spaced at intervals along the roadway, offering various combinations of vehicle refueling, food and beverage service (both eat-in and take-out), miscellaneous minor shopping, and parking for both cars and trucks” with the bare-bones amenities of restrooms and vending machines offered on nontolled interstates.

“Interstate users must exit the highway and look for gas stations, restaurants, and other services, which range from being located close to the off-ramp to being several miles away,” the report states. “Longer distances are often involved to reach full-service truck stops, which offer overnight truck parking, restrooms with showers, and restaurant services.”

The ban is in Section 111 of Title 23 of the U.S. Code, and dates back to the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the first long-distance interstates were being built.

Along with new pavement, improved bridges, and redesigned and rebuilt interchanges in urban areas, the report says a modern interstate system must have state-of-the-art service plazas.

The report points to three factors which may lead to support for repealing the ban on commercial services at rest areas: the shortage of safe, overnight parking for long-haul truckers; the trend of state transportation departments closing rest areas due to budget cuts; and the coming need to charge electric passenger vehicles and trucks and to refuel those powered by non-traditional fuels such as liquefied natural gas and hydrogen.

Read the full report here.

OOIDA supports repealing ban

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association agrees that the ban on commercial services at interstate rest stops needs to be repealed in order to keep such locations open amid a worsening truck parking crisis nationwide.

“As we witnessed during the pandemic, opening up rest areas to commercial entities such as food trucks allowed truckers in some states to access fresh food options when on-site facilities had shut down or limited their hours,” said Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s director of federal affairs.

“While we agree with the Reason Foundation’s need for repealing the ban on commercialization, their positions on expanding tolling continue to miss the mark,” Grimes added.

As part of his testimony to Congress at a hearing in February, OOIDA executive vice president Lewie Pugh lauded the Federal Highway Administration for allowing states to permit food trucks at rest areas but called out some states for not allowing it.

“Unfortunately, many states, just like here in Missouri, wouldn’t allow food trucks in rest areas,” Pugh said. “Think about that. Truckers couldn’t buy food at a truck stop. They couldn’t buy food at a restaurant, yet states had the nerve to deny them a hot meal even at a rest area. Here at OOIDA, we weren’t even allowed to give free food at a rest area. To me, that’s a real shame.” LL

Greg Grisolano joined Land Line in 2013. He was formerly a reporter for the Joplin Globe. He brings business writing and photography skills to Land Line, and has a passion for finding and telling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry.