No rest for the pols

Steve Landes has written to local Commonwealth Transportation Board member James Davis to get him to reconsider closing two Augusta County-area interstate rest stops. Chris Saxman is doing him one better, as he plans to ask members of the local congressional delegation to grant Virginia a waiver that would allow the Commonwealth to allow private interests to run its rest areas.

I’m guessing they don’t realize how anti-local business they’re being on this.

I was talking with a friend in the local hospitality industry the other day about this when he shared with me this perspective. “So, Chris, if the rest stops are closed, does that mean people aren’t going to need to stop to go to the bathroom or get a snack?” he said, making his point by way of a Socratic-style question.

Well, no, of course not, is the right answer here. If you need to use the bathroom, you need to use the bathroom, and it’s not like we don’t have signage along the interstates informing us of what’s up ahead in terms of gas stations and convenience stores and fast-food restaurants that can accommodate our needs there.

“And guess what happens when people stop at the Sheetz here or at McDonald’s or wherever?”

Well, people tend to spend a few dollars, just as they tend to do at rest areas. I do, anyway. You stop, you decide a Diet Coke and a bag of M&Ms sounds good, you put a couple of dollars in quarters in the machines, and you’re good to go.

So if you own a convenience-type business at an interstate exit, then, these rest-stop closures aren’t bad news at all to you. Restaurants, ditto. “Well, honey, since we’re stopped anyway, we might as well eat at Mrs. Rowe’s.”

So the more I think about it, yeah, Landes is way off. Keep ’em open? That’s bad budgeting, for starters, and totally, totally anti-business.

Saxman’s idea is a little better, if not also at the same time quite flawed. One, the federal government has jurisdiction over its interstate system, and I don’t think it at all likely that our congressional delegation is going to be able to convince the rest of the House and the Senate that giving Virginia a special right to privatize its rest stops makes sense when other states with much more dire financial straits than we have seem to making do just fine.

Two, even if Congress did end up, say, giving us some special exemption, or just decide to say, Hell with it, let’s open up rest stops across the country to the kind of privatization that we see on state roads like the New Jersey Turnpike, who does that benefit, exactly? Do you think mom and pop are going to be able to compete for that business?

Not that moms and pops own a lot of Sheetz and McDonald’s and Burger Kings and Jiffy Marts and whatever else, but there are plenty of franchisees in those positions who can stand to gain by having more customers coming through their doors.

You go with Landes, then, you’re letting government solve whatever problem there is here; and you go with Saxman, and you’re letting big business work its magic of running the little guys off that they seem so good at.

And on a side note, I think, just personally, that it’s a bit hypocritical of members of the House Republican Caucus to be hemming and hawing about the Virginia Department of Transportation when it’s been that same caucus that for years has hamstrung the transportation department at budget time while preaching nonsense about public-private partnerships that Valley Republicans in particular don’t care to follow through on because doing so would be political suicide back home.

VDOT and the Commonwealth Transportation Board is in the mess they’re in now precisely because of the Do-Nothing politics of House Republicans. They finally decide to engage in some Do-Something politics, and as usual they’re mucking things up more than anything else.

Seriously, Steve, Chris, you’d do us a better favor just sitting this one out.

 

– Column by Chris Graham


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