The shuttering of 18 rest areas along Virginia’s interstates overnight marks a new low point in Virginia’s transportation budget wars.
We always knew that Virginia lawmakers’ budget feud and failure to fund transportation, even after being called into special session in 2008 and not appropriating an additional dime, would put motorists in their crosshairs. Today, they hit their mark.
Today, the first day of the closures, tens of thousands of drivers and their families will feel the impact immediately. Highway safety, not to mention comfort, hospitality and tourism, have today taken a big hit.
We renew our call to Gov. Kaine to find the $9 million and reopen the rest stops. We ask him to think about the 100,000 crashes nationwide with 1,500 fatalities and 70,000 injuries annually that NHTSA says result at least in part from drowsy, tired driving. It’s almost inevitable that some very tired drivers on Virginia’s highways who should be taking a break will zoom past a closed rest area into harm’s way, perhaps hurting others as well.
While we completely understand the budget debacle and the need to perform major budget cutting on Virginia’s once proud transportation program, shuttering the rest areas appears to some, including Congressman Frank Wolf, to be playing hardball politics at the expense of highway safety. While we hope that is not the case, Governor Kaine can end that speculation now by finding the necessary money – a truly paltry sum – and reopening the rest stops for the safety of all drivers using Virginia’s roads. He has made his point and gotten everyone’s attention.
Mahlon G. “Lon” Anderson is the director of public and goverment affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic.