NATSO, the national association representing truckstops and travel plazas, and the National League of Cities (NLC), representing the interests of more than 19,000 cities, towns and villages in the United States, urged lawmakers to reject any proposals to commercialize rest areas as they draft infrastructure legislation and instead pursue policies that will improve the ability of businesses and communities to grow and prosper.
In a joint statement submitted to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, NATSO and NLC said that commercializing rest areas threatens private businesses and the communities that depend on them as part of their tax and employment base.
“We urge lawmakers as they draft infrastructure legislation to avoid actions that will close businesses and put people out of work,” said NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings. “The private businesses operating near the Interstate Highway are frequently the largest sources of tax revenue in many localities, providing critical financial resources and employment opportunities across America. If the government is allowed to unfairly compete against the private sector under a government-sanctioned monopoly, these businesses would be harmed to a degree that they no longer could provide jobs or contribute to local coffers.”
“Commercializing rest areas would effectively displace property tax revenue that cities and towns near interstates depend on,” said Clarence E. Anthony, NLC’s CEO and Executive Director. “This loss of revenue would directly impact the ability of municipalities to pay for their own infrastructure needs, widening the nation’s infrastructure gap.”
When Congress created the Interstate Highway System in 1956, community leaders feared that local businesses, jobs, and tax bases would shrink as motorists bypassed their cities and towns for the convenience of an on-highway rest area. For this reason, Congress prohibited Interstate rest areas from offering commercial services, such as food and fuel.
The United States Senate reaffirmed the wisdom of that decision in 2012, voting 86 to 12 to overwhelmingly reject a proposal to commercialize rest areas.
Today, thousands of truckstops, gas stations, convenience stores, hotels and restaurants operate at interstate exit interchanges catering to Interstate travelers. These businesses are major taxpayers contributing more than $22 billion in local tax revenues annually and are a vital part of the communities in which they operate.
The Trump Administration’s infrastructure proposal would dramatically alter this dynamic by allowing states to set up shop at the Interstate rest areas in direct competition with the private sector yet give the state an advantageous location directly on the Interstate right-of-way.
State-operated commercial rest areas would siphon away customers who normally patronize existing businesses — pulling the rug out from existing private enterprises and the communities that the current federal law helped to create.
Commercialization of rest areas would lead to a 46 percent decline in fuel sales, 44 percent decline in restaurant sales and 35 percent decrease in truck service business sales, according to a Virginia Tech study of the issue.
Furthermore, as truckstops and other businesses currently located at the exit interchanges fail to thrive, they would no longer be able to invest in truck parking capacity, undercutting a key priority of the Department of Transportation. A new report, titled Rest Area Commercialization and Truck Parking Capacity 2018, issued by NATSO finds 69 percent more truck parking spaces per mile along interstate highways where the private sector caters to the needs of the traveling public free from government competition at commercial rest areas.
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