Businesses have invested heavily in real estate off interstate exits and allowing states to flip highway policy on its head and permit commercial rest areas after more than 50 years of established rules would devastate, truckstops, fuel retailers, convenience stores, hotel and blind vendors, NATSO told the Independent Journal Review (IJR) in a recent interview.
In an article that appeared Aug. 9 titled “Finding a Road Forward: The Messy Battle for the Future of Highway Rest Stops,” NATSO Vice President of Public Affairs Tiffany Wlazlowski Neuman and NATSO Vice President of Government Affairs David Fialkov detailed the negative impact that commercial rest areas would have on businesses that rely on motorists exiting the interstate as well as blind vendors, local communities and consumers.
IJR reporter Haley Byrd contacted NATSO after meeting with staff from Rep. Jim Banks’ (R-Ind.) office about H.R. 1990, legislation that would permit commercial services such as convenience stores and restaurants at Interstate rest areas. Introduced in April by Rep. Banks, H.R. 1990 seeks to change federal law to expand the types of allowable commercial activities at rest areas along the Interstate Highway System as a means of generating infrastructure funds.
Although the Congressman has said that this will help states increase infrastructure revenues, the bill would give states the ability to redirect revenues from these commercial activities as they see fit.
NATSO strongly opposes this measure and in April led a group of trade associations representing hundreds of thousands of small businesses in urging members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to oppose it.
Byrd also spoke with Kevin Biesty, deputy director for policy at the Arizona Department of Transportation, who told IJR that the agency plans to continue to work through the legal process to try and change the federal statute.
Wlazlowski Neuman detailed that commercialized rest areas would result in a 46 percent decline in gas sales, a 44 percent decrease in restaurant sales, and a 35 percent hit to truckstop revenue if permitted in counties currently free of commercial rest areas.
She also specified that more than $22.5 billion a year in local tax revenues — funds used to support local public services such as police and fire departments — would be transferred to state budgets, leaving local communities with massive budgetary shortfalls.
Byrd wrote that some states have gotten "creative" in their efforts to keep rest areas open, citing the New York Department of Transportation's operation of two commercial rest areas in violation of federal statute 23 USC 111(c). One of those rest areas is on I-81 in Binghamton, N.Y., represented by Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.). NATSO has met with the Department of Transportation, urging the agency to bring NYDOT into compliance with federal law, and recently Rep. Tenney urged the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to hold New York state accountable for its violation of the law.
Fialkov told Byrd that a change in transportation and infrastructure funding is needed, but it isn’t complicated: Congress should raise the motor fuels tax, which hasn't been increased in more than 20 years despite higher construction costs and inflation.
Fialkov said the recent pivot by Republican lawmakers to tax reform represents an opportunity to put a gas tax increase in a bill that would cut tax rates overall.
"It's hard to call somebody a tax-raiser if you’re pointing to a vote that results in people getting more money in their pocket,” Fialkov said. “The fuel tax was the most efficient, ubiquitous way of raising revenue for transportation investments. It’s simply a matter of garnering the political willpower to make that case to the public.”
To read the full IJR article, click "Finding a Road Forward: The Messy Battle for the Future of Highway Rest Stops."
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