Expanding commercial services at rest areas, including liberalizing the definition of "vending machine," threatens consumers, small business and localities by undercutting the highway-based businesses that currently operate near the interstate exit interchanges, NATSO said in comments filed with the Department of Transportation (DOT) July 24.
The comments were filed in response to the Department’s solicitation for public input regarding a review of policy and guidance on transportation infrastructure. DOT is reviewing its existing policy and guidance to identify obstacles to expeditious completion of transportation infrastructure projects. As part of this review, the Department invited affected stakeholders and the public to identify non-statutory requirements that the Department imposes and that should be removed or revised.
In its comments, NATSO urged DOT resist the temptation to liberalize its restrictions on rest area commercialization, arguing that commercial rest areas threaten the livelihood of existing exit-based businesses by establishing state-run monopolies directly on the Interstate right-of-way.
NATSO detailed how commercial rest areas transfer local tax revenues to state coffers, hurting the small town communities that rely on those revenues to help fund, schools, fire and police departments while at the same time imposing significantly higher prices on consumers.
NATSO also addressed the exception to the commercialization ban pertaining to sales of products out of "vending machines." NATSO argued that while vending machine technology has evolved in recent years, DOT should maintain its current definition of vending machine, which is defined as equipment that automatically dispenses products after payment is made by the customer. Self-checkout kiosks clearly do not fall within this definition, NATSO argued.
NATSO also addressed concerns over the fact that the State of New York is currently violating the federal ban on commercializing interstate rest areas by selling food and beverages via self-checkout kiosks at newly-constructed welcome centers and rest areas along the Interstate Highway System right-of-way.
Among its comments, NATSO included letters from several key elected officials urging DOT to maintain the existing ban on commercial rest areas.
Sen. John Barrasso, (R-Wyo.), Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, recently urged DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to reject any changes to the prohibition on commercial rest areas arguing that “the public right-of-way was acquired with public funds for a public purpose.”
NATSO also included a July 24 letter from Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) calling New York’s commercial rest areas a “clear violation of established federal law” that “threatens the livelihoods of small businesses within my district.”
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