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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In what is being hailed as a huge victory for the convenience store and truck stop industry, the U.S. Senate last night rejected an amendment that would have allowed for commercialization of rest stops along federal highways.
The Senate voted 86-12 against Amendment 1742 to the Surface Transportation Bill. Proposed by Sen. Robert Portman, (R-Ohio), if approved, the amendment would have reversed federal law that prohibit the sale of food, fuel and convenience items at interstate rest stops.
Vending machines are allowed to be at those rest areas, but cannot be manned by a salesperson. The federal law applies to most states. Some were grandfathered in before the federal ban in 1956.
Many in the c-store industry vehemently opposed the amendment. Among those was NACS.
"This marks a major victory for convenience stores, restaurants and truck stops that operate around our nation's highways," said Corey Fitze, NACS' director of government affairs. "This veto sends a clear message that state DOTs [Department of Transportation] cannot fix their state budget problems on the backs of small businesses or at the expense of American jobs and local communities."
Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of the National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO) and a member of the Partnership to Save Highway Communities, also applauded the Senate's decision last night.
Jimmy Haslam III, CEO of Pilot Flying J, has been a staunch opponent of rest stop commercialization for the past several months as well. A member of NATSO, Haslam wrote a letter prior to the vote explaining the negative effects the amendment could have on truck stops and other businesses, reported KnoxNews.com.
"While at first glance this may seem like an easy way for state DOTs to generate revenue, the fact is it will devastate private businesses like mine that for the last 50 years have operated under the current law and established locations at the highway exits," said Haslam in his letter. "The advantageous location of state-owned commercial rest areas establishes virtual monopolies on the sale of commercial services to highway travelers." In backing the amendment prior to the vote, Portman said it was "about states being able to control what happens at rest areas."
"It will save states hundreds of millions of dollars a year," he said. "It takes that money and provides it for the needs of the state and transportation areas including putting more money into roads and bridges. This amendment does not direct or mandate states to do anything."
However, Sen. Barbara Boxer, (D-Calif.), disagreed, saying a "devastating" number of jobs could be lost if the amendment were approved.
"This amendment is very controversial," she said. "It's opposed by a broad and diverse group of business groups and labor organizations. It would overturn a 60-year prohibition on allowing commercial services at interstate rest areas. The ban was enacted because Congress recognized the importance of supporting businesses and commercial activity along interstates. That decision has resulted in the development of 97,000 businesses that employ over 2 million Americans."