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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Convenience stores and food outlets could be coming to rest areas along interstate highways. However, not everyone in the retail community is in favor of the move.
U.S. Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) introduced a bill to give states the option to commercialize state-owned rest areas on interstate highways.
The measure would give states the discretion on how to use this new revenue to fund infrastructure projects and highway maintenance.
"Across America, state governments are grappling with how to fund critical infrastructure needs," Banks said. "Giving states the option to commercialize rest areas would create a new source of revenue for long-term infrastructure needs and provide drivers with a smoother travel experience. This bipartisan bill is a common-sense solution that would give states more control and turn fiscal liabilities into potential assets."
According to Courtney, the legislation will provide state governments with the option to enter into public-private partnerships to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of highway rest stops while providing improved amenities to the public.
"The 1956 law that currently blocks the creation of full-service rest stops creates a difficult financial situation for already cash-strapped states. Our bill will allow for public-private partnerships that will cover the cost of providing public restrooms while giving travelers options for food services and convenience shops," he said.
Current federal law prohibits states from commercializing rest areas on interstates developed after 1956.
However, NATSO is leading a group of trade associations representing hundreds of thousands of small businesses in urging members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to oppose the bill, officially known as H.R. 1990.
In a letter sent April 7 to every member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, NATSO said that H.R. 1990 "is ill-conceived and counter-productive, creating far more problems than it would solve."
"States and local communities suffer when exit-based businesses and the jobs they support have to cut workers and potentially close. The towns and counties that rely on those businesses for local tax revenues are then challenged to make up the lost tax revenues they rely on from those businesses," the association said in a release.
In addition, allowing commercial food sales at rest areas would devastate the blind community, which currently enjoys a priority for installing and operating vending machines at Interstate rest areas, according to the organization
NATSO was joined in signing the letter by the National Federation of the Blind, NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, National Council of Chain Restaurants, Petroleum Marketers Association of America, and the SIGMA: America's Leading Fuel Marketers.
"Allowing state governments to start selling food and convenience items directly on the shoulder of the Interstate will put restaurants, convenience stores, travel plazas and truckstops at a major disadvantage," the letter stated. "These businesses rely on customers who exit the Interstate. If the government-controlled rest area enters this business, it will take sales away from these businesses based solely on its preferential location on the Interstate right-of-way."
According to the letter, "a recent study from Virginia Tech demonstrates that this policy will not increase economic activity; people will not buy more hamburgers or soft drinks. Instead, it will simply transfer these sales away from the current competitive environment at highway exits to the government-run rest area. In essence, it would divert tax revenue currently enjoyed by off-highway towns and counties to the state."