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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) would open up state-operated rest areas along the nation's highways to commercialization, and that has NACS, the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing calling on its members to stand against the move.
The bill, known as the Lincoln Legacy Infrastructure Development Act, "encourages greater private participation in the finance and development of our transportation infrastructure, including highways, rail, transit, airports and ports," according to Kirk's website. Specifically, it would remove federal restrictions on private-public partnerships; provide states greater flexibility to generate transportation revenues; and enhance access to private capital investment in road, rail, aviation, highway and port infrastructure.
However, NACS contends that the 50-year-old current federal law that prohibits gas stations, truck stops, restaurants and other commercial services from operating in state-operated rest areas along the interstate highway system in all but 14 states benefitted counties, states and localities by allowing for the growth of commercial businesses along exit ramps across the nation, to the tune of $248.7 billion a year. Citing a recent study by the Virginia Tech Office of Economy Development, NACS said the commercialization would place those businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
The study found, according to NACS, that researchers predict a 46-percent decrease in Interstate-serving gas station sales in each county, a 44-percent decrease in sales at Interstate-serving restaurants, and a 35-percent decrease in truck service sales at interstate-serving truck service businesses from the commercialization of rest stops.
As a result, the study said an estimated $38.2 million would be lost in annual sales and resulting tax revenue from interstate-serving gas stations in individual counties nationwide. In addition, the decrease would result in an estimated $27.9 million in lost annual sales and resulting tax revenue at interstate-serving restaurants in individual counties nationwide; and an estimated $41.2 million would be lost in annual sales and resulting tax revenue at interstate-serving truck service businesses in individual counties nationwide.
"While state governments may look at commercializing rest areas as a means to raise needed revenue during tough economic times, Virginia Tech researchers found that not only would this destroy local jobs and businesses, it would undercut the economic growth the commercial interchange industry has long driven at the local level," NACS said in a statement. "At the same time, this would drive down the tax base that funds state, county and local first responders, schools and other services as big corporations benefit at the expense of the 60,000 local businesses nationwide that compete for traveler dollars."
In an effort to urge lawmakers to vote down the legislation, the association is asking its members to contact their Congressional representatives -- either by phone or e-mail -- and let them know where they stand on the issue. NACS also has joined with others fighting the commercialization in the Partnership to Save Highway Communities coalition.
In March, the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) president and CEO Lisa Mullings went before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, urging members to oppose any move to amend or repeal the federal law banning commercial development on the interstate right-of-way. Any effort, she testified, represented government intrusion into the private sector and would adversely affect the more than 97,000 businesses located at the exits along the country's interstate system -- which could threaten 2.2 million jobs and slash funds for county governments, as CSNews Online previously reported.