December 10, 2023

The Case of the Disappearing Rest Stops

Virginia Rest Area, Mile 54 South, I-81, one of the rest areas to be closed July 21, 2009.

Virginia Rest Area, Mile 54 South, I-81, one of the rest areas to be closed July 21, 2009.

With the downturn in the economy, states across the country are experiencing budget crises, and looking for ways to cut expenses anywhere they can. And many are looking for quick fixes — short term savings regardless of the long term consequences. One of those shortsighted “fixes” affects all of us who travel, drivers and passengers: the closing of state operated rest stops.

States are discovering they can save millions of dollars, in some cases, by closing interstate rest areas that produce little or no direct income. Virginia, for example, is closing 18 interstate rest areas next week (July 21, 2009), and one of their welcome centers on I-66 in September, for a reported savings of almost $9 million annually. Maine is closing two rest areas on I-95 to save about $700,000. Vermont has already temporarily closed four rest areas, and is considering permanently closing six rest areas, for a savings of $1 million annually. Louisiana has closed 24 of its 34 rest areas since 2000, four of them last year. Colorado, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Arizona and others are also considering closing highway rest areas.

One of Virginia's rest areas on I-81, closed 7/21/09 for budgetary reasons.

One of Virginia's rest areas on I-81, closed 7/21/09 for budgetary reasons.

While states may be saving a few dollars short term, it comes at the expense of both the traveling public and the local economy. The loss of 24/7 toilets at rest stops is just the most obvious loss. Now travelers will need to exit the highway to find facilities, relying on businesses — at their expense — to provide facilities. Some of those businesses will benefit from the increased traffic, but many aren’t prepared and can’t handle the increase. Most of them are not open 24/7, so travel times will be affected. Very few of them can handle animals, so travel with pets will be much more difficult, too. My guess is that we’re going to see a lot more cars parked alongside the road, both people and pets relieving themselves along the highway, the most dangerous place they could possibly be.

And what about buses? Fifty passengers descending on McDonald’s to use the restrooms may be slow but workable, at least occasionally … but what about multiple buses? Few small businesses can handle the parking needs of a motorcoach, let alone a sudden crowd of 50 or more people arriving at the same time. Trucks will have similar issues when it comes to parking needs. Rest stops have provided them a safe, off-the-road parking spot to catch a nap or just take a safety break. With more trucks parked on the shoulders of the highway, everyone’s safety is jeopardized. Studies have shown that the greater the distance between rest stops, the higher the truck accident rate.

Many small attractions in communities across the country have not been able to afford advertising other than the brochure racks in rest stops. Even larger attractions benefit significantly from the advertising opportunities at rest areas. Some will experience significantly fewer visitors from the loss of exposure and may ultimately close.

So short term, yes, states save a few dollars by closing rest areas. But it seems very shortsighted to me, with a very high potential cost down the road, from both an economic and safety standpoint. What do you think? Add your comments below.

UPDATE 7-28-09 — Here’s a link to a complete list of Virginia’s rest areas (from Virginia DOT) showing both open and closed rest areas that may be helpful:

About Bob Bergey

Bob has been driving motorcoaches since 2002, in every state east of the Mississippi and a few west, as well as the four southeastern-most provinces of Canada. In addition to driving, he's an avid photographer (and former professional), enjoys writing and technology.


  1. While there are not loads of unemployed caused by this, one is too many. My best wishes go out to all those unemployed caused by this.
    This shows the intellect of our government officials. State and National. States are cutting back and putting people out of work, while our national government is throwing money at the rich to keep them rich. Sounds normal doesn’t it.
    It looks like truck stops are going to get busy in the future. Since this will be the only place that buses with that many people will be able to handle and the buses will have some place to park. The bad part is, they are usually so far apart on some interstates. Guess we drivers are going to have to watch how much we drink while on the road since the stops are going to be further apart….. LOL.
    Love the new pictures Bob. Keep up the good work.

  2. Me again. I just came back from a trip through Virginia where I stopped at two rest areas that are due to close this Tuesday. On my trip there was a lot of CB chatter about the reasons for the closings. The most common reason given is that they are closing for a year to be redesigned and then reopened again for use by tourists only. Trucks will no longer be allowed into the rest areas. Due to the size and space taken up by them. If this were true, it makes one wonders if this will include buses due to our size.
    Back to my stops at the rest areas. At one of the rest areas I got to chat for a little while to a “supervisor” over that rest area. I mentioned the chatter I had heard, and he told me that it was plain CB chatter. They were being closed due to budget cutbacks. On Tuesday approx. 1/3 would be closed and the rest were to follow in September sometime. The only areas that are staying open are the welcome centers. At this time there are no plans to reopen any of them. He was told that Virginia could save between 1 to 2 million dollars a year in revenue if all the rest areas were closed. To me that seems a little much just for rest areas, but then again, I don’t know what all it takes to upkeep a rest area.
    During my trip I talked to several members of the public that had no idea rest areas are closing. The few that I chatted with were very upset. The general public does not seem to know anything about this change and it is the general public that will be most effected. This includes our bus passengers, bus drivers and all the truckers out there.
    Some how the word needs passed around every chance we get to see if the public will get involved to see if they can change things.
    I know what we need to do. Next time we are through an area where some government officials live with a bus load of passengers, we need to stop at their house for a rest stop. LOL.. I know, that is taking it just a little too far, but it would get the point across.
    Keep it safe out there.

  3. Just curious…do you think McDonalds will designate a space for State Police Parking Only?
    Or maybe the 2nd urinal in the men’s room could be marked State Police Whizzing Only.
    Seems like state rest areas have always given priority to State Police for quick rest stops with their car parked close by for quick access in case of emergency. So what will the impact be on the interstate when they need to get off at an exit to relieve themselves. Might even want to consider the long term effects of possible weight gain. How many officers could use the bathroom at Dunkin Donuts and get back on the interstate without at least one maybe two donuts?
    These seem like fairly serious issues to me!!

  4. The first thing Bob McDonnell, the new Republican Governor of Virginia did when he took office was to act on a campaign promise to open the 19 Interstate rest areas closed by the previous governor (in what was seen as a politically motivated effort to get the Republican-controlled General Assembly to bend on highway funding).

    Several local rest areas on I81 New Market, Mt. Sidney) will be open by Feb. 15 and all the rest in the state will be open by April 15.

  5. That’s great news, Larry! Thanks for the update. I really miss some of those rest areas while driving through Virginia, and it will be great to have them back.