Rest Area Commercialization

When Congress created the Interstate Highway System (IHS) in the 1950s, community leaders feared that local businesses, jobs and tax bases would shrink as truck drivers and motorists bypassed their cities and towns. As a result, Congress prohibited states from offering commercial services, such as food and fuel, at commercial rest areas on the interstate right-of-way built after Jan. 1, 1960. Since then, businesses such as restaurants, fuel stations and truckstops have clustered near the interstates at the interchanges along the IHS to provide services to interstate travelers.

Commercial rest areas jeopardize private businesses that for the last 50 years have operated under the current law and established locations at the highway exits.

Due to their advantageous locations, state-owned commercial rest areas establish virtual monopolies on the sale of services to highway travelers.

Allowing states to set up shop along the interstates threatens more than 97,000 businesses nationwide and jeopardizes 2.2 million jobs.

In the 2012 transportation bill, a Senate amendment seeking to overturn the prohibition on commercial rest areas was overwhelmingly defeated 86-12.

In recent years, states have approached the Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding the definition of “vending machine” and permissible items that can be sold at interstate rest areas. Some states are claiming that they have the right to sell food products – other than through a vending machine – at highway rest areas by claiming that certain food is a type of “media,” like books or DVDs. In 2016, DOT solicited comments on the definition of “vending machine” in light of advancements in technology. NATSO submitted comments with DOT opposing an expansion of the definition of “vending machine” and opposes any further action that would undercut off-highway businesses.

As Congress works on the next transportation bill, NATSO will continue to educate members of Congress about the negative effects of commercial rest areas, and we are hopeful that the Senate vote in 2012 will put the idea of commercializing rest areas to rest.

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