No Rest in Battle Against Rest Area Commercialization

Industry groups redouble efforts for members to call Congress to urge "no" vote

Rob Portman

WASHINGTON -- Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has offered Amendment 1742 to the Senate transportation reauthorization bill (S. 1813) that would overturn the current ban on rest area commercialization. And Representatives Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) have introduced an amendment (217) to the highway reauthorization bill (H.R. 7) in the House that would allow states to commercialize interstate rest areas.

These amendments will change the legislation from a jobs creator to a jobs killer for small businesses based along the nation's highways, said the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA). Repealing the longstanding law prohibiting commercialization of rest areas would have significant, negative consequences for small businesses along interstate highways.

Allowing state governments to sell food, fuel and convenience items directly on the shoulder of the interstate will put businesses that rely on customers exiting the highway at a major disadvantage. Allowing commercial rest areas will not increase the number of gasoline gallons sold, but simply transfer sales away from the current competitive business environment at highway exits to the government.

In a recent study of commercial rest areas, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that commercializing rest areas nationwide could cause a huge decline in sales at Interstate exit businesses: a 46% decrease at gas stations, a 44% decrease at restaurants and a 35% decrease at truckstops.

And the revenues generated by leasing rest areas could benefit the state in the short term. But in the long term, the state and local communities will have bigger problems to deal with as exit businesses, along with the jobs they support, take a huge hit. Many won't survive, said PMAA.

PMAA, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA)--as well as state and local groups--are urging their members to contact Congress to register their opposition to this legislation and to call for "no" votes.

Meanwhile, the National Federation of the Blind and the National Restaurant Association also urged the U.S. Congress to reject legislation that would allow the commercialization of highway rest stops.

Currently, the only commercial activity permitted at such rest stops is the operation of vending machines by blind entrepreneurs under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Commercializing rest stops would also jeopardize the business of restaurants and convenience stores that operate at highway exits.

"This legislation would threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of blind entrepreneurs in the United States who depend on revenue from rest-stop vending machines. With an unemployment rate among blind Americans that exceeds 70%, such a move is deeply irresponsible, since these entrepreneurs will lose their businesses and be forced to rely on public assistance. We urge Congress to reject this ill-considered and reckless proposal," said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind.

"This legislation threatens private businesses of all sizes and their employees who rely on drivers exiting the highway in order to purchase food and conveniences. It is an attempt to take money away from these businesses to fill state coffers," Brendan Flanagan, a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, said. "It is anti-competitive and will kill jobs."