NATSO has learned that the state of New York is violating the federal ban on commercializing interstate rest areas by selling food and beverages at newly-constructed welcome centers and rest areas along the Interstate Highway System right-of-way.
In a letter sent today, NATSO urged Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Administrator Gregory Nadeau to take immediate action to ensure that the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is in full compliance with the federal law prohibiting commercial services at rest areas.
Federal law prohibits a state from selling commercial services at and rest areas that are built after 1960. The law sets forth specific, narrow exceptions to this broad prohibition, including promotional books, DVDs and “other media” that promotes tourism within a state. In addition, states are permitted to sell food and drink in vending machines under 23 USC 111(c).
New York state officials claim that sales of certain foods not sold from vending machines are a "form of media" and "promote tourism" and thus fall under a narrow exception to the general ban on commercial sales at rest areas.
This claim is a clear misinterpretation of the law with serious implications for the travel plaza industry.
In a letter to FHWA Administrator Gregory Nadeau, NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings took strong exception to New York suggesting that "food is media." Mullings said that Congress explicitly listed several “limited activities” as exceptions to the commercialization ban, including hotel coupon booklets, DVDs, books and maps. In her letter, Mullings said that any question of statutory interpretation should begin with a plain reading of the law.
To claim that food qualifies as media "stretches the definition of 'media' beyond the breaking point," Mullings said.
NATSO requested a timely meeting with Administrator Nadeau to ensure that FHWA fully appreciates the industry’s position on this matter.
NATSO will continue to update members on this issue as more information becomes available.
To read the full letter to Administrator Nadeau click here.
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