Highway rest areas have lined the U.S. interstate highway system since its creation in 1956.
Today, motorists might have to drive farther to find one. And it might not be open. States are cutting back on rest areas because of budget constraints.
When the interstates opened, rest areas were often the only places to stop on long stretches of highway. Pull off, use the rest room, shake off the drowsiness, pick up a tourist pamphlet. Get back on the highway.
Over the years, commercial establishments have spread along the interstate system in all but the most remote parts of the country. Gas stations and fast-food restaurants can be found at frequent intervals along the interstate.
The Wall Street Journal, citing a national directory, references nearly 2,500 privately-owned truck stops. And Wal-Mart, as most RVers know, is a popular alternative to rest areas.
State departments of transportation still fund and maintain more than 2,000 rest areas. But with so many commercial alternatives, many cash-strapped states are choosing to close rest stops rather than spend money on staffing, repairing and maintaining them. A significant percentage of rest stops have been closed, and more closures are planned.
Georgia is targeting rest stops near urban areas. Last summer the state closed two service plazas on Interstate 85 near Atlanta. A Georgia Department of Transportation official told the Associated Press that each closed rest area will save the state approximately $300,000. The state is considering closing more, or keeping them open and limiting their hours of operation.
The Arizona Department of Transportation shuttered 13 rest areas in October 2009. Virginia has closed 19 of its 42 locations, estimating that each closure saves the state nearly $500,000.
Virginia had planned to close 25 rest areas, but a public outcry apparently had an impact on the state officials. A state transportation department spokesman reported that state budget meetings were dominated by discussions regarding the closures, even though the plans represented a tiny part of the $2.6 billion in proposed cuts to the Virginia transportation budget.
Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Vermont also have closed rest stops to save money. Colorado and South Carolina have plans for closures in the near future. Other states have prevented outright closures by cutting back on staffing, hours of operation or services.
Some states, notably those with wide-open spaces and long distances between populated areas, are revitalizing rest areas rather than closing them. In some instances, they are using federal stimulus money. For instance, Texas recently closed several older rest stops but opened new locations. Iowa has been replacing older rest areas with new ones.
For information about the status of rest stops in specific states, check these Web sites:
Alaska and Hawaii have no rest stops.