Rest stops to reopen by April, McDonnell says

Published 8:07 am Friday, January 22, 2010

RICHMOND—Within three months, Virginia will reopen the welcome center and all of the highway rest stops that were closed last year, Gov. Bob McDonnell said Wednesday.

He issued that statement after the Commonwealth Transportation Board voted to reopen the 18 rest stops, as well as the West Manassas Welcome Center on Interstate 66, starting in February.

McDonnell’s predecessor, Gov. Tim Kaine, had closed the rest areas because of the state’s budget crisis.

McDonnell said closing the facilities affected public safety, tourism and economic development.

“The darkened rest stops presented an image of Virginia ‘closed for business,’” he said. “They left truckers and families without safe and secure areas at which they could get a break from the road, increasing the potential for accidents.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation will use $3 million from its maintenance reserve fund to operate the now-shuttered facilities through the end of June, according to the plan approved Wednesday.

VDOT then will revise its budget to keep the rest areas open. The agency plans to develop an “Adopt a Rest Stop” program so that private contributions can defray the costs of operating the facilities. The annual cost of maintaining the rest stops is about $7.5 million.

“I fully understand that this is a tough budget. Significant spending cuts must be made,” McDonnell said.

“But they must be made with a comprehensive review of the ramifications of each decision on our citizens. I look forward to welcoming travelers to the first re-opened rest stop in February.”

McDonnell joined Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton at Wednesday’s meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which oversees VDOT.

When all of the facilities are reopened, Virginia again will have 42 functioning state rest stops and welcome centers.