Rest Area Commercialization Bill Defeated


Marking a major victory for NATSO members, truckstops and travel plazas beat back the biggest threat interstate businesses have ever faced under a highway bill in March, when the Senate resoundingly rejected an amendment seeking to commercialize rest areas.

The Senate voted 86 to 12 against Amendment #1742 of the highway bill proposed by Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman to uphold the longstanding federal law prohibiting the sale of food, fuel and other convenience items from interstate rest areas.

NATSO members played a critical role in the defeat of Amendment #1742. Capitalizing on the strength of their numbers, NATSO members nationwide contacted their Senators through email and phone calls urging them to vote no to the amendment and educating them on its devastating effects for interstate-based businesses nationwide.

“I’m proud of the united effort put forth by our industry,” said Lisa Mullings, president and chief executive officer of NATSO. “We sent a clear message to Capitol Hill that state DOTs cannot fix their state budget problems on the backs of our businesses. We spoke with one voice, and we were heard.”

Amendment #1742 represented the first time that the issue of commercial rest areas has come up for a full Senate vote. And more than 60 organizations joined NATSO under the umbrella of the Partnership to Save Highway Communities in opposing the amendment, which would have granted state governments the ability to set up shop directly along the interstate right-of-way, giving states a major advantage over the travel plazas, truckstops, gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants at the exit interchanges.

Allowing commercial rest areas to sell food and fuel would have transferred sales away from the current competitive environment at highway exits to such a degree that many exit-based businesses would not have been able to survive. A study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that a single commercial rest area siphons up to 46 percent of the sales from a gas station at the exits, and results in a 35 percent and 44 percent decline at truckstops and restaurants.

Although the Senate passed its version of the highway bill, S. 1813, just one day after rejecting Sen. Portman’s amendment, the industry’s fight is not over yet. A similar threat lingers in the U.S. House of Representatives, under an amendment offered by Ohio Rep. Steven LaTourette.

As of press time, the House had yet to vote on its transportation bill, H.R. 7. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) had introduced an extension of the current highway bill through June 30 to give the House more time to work on a longer-term bill. However, House leaders were facing pressure to adopt the Senate version of the legislation.


This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.

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Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman's photo

Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman

Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman develops and executes communications strategies to advance NATSO’s public relations and advocacy goals. Tiffany also develops and oversees partnerships related to the NATSO Foundation’s public outreach initiatives. Tiffany lives in the D.C. metro area with her husband and their two sons.More
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