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Freedom Fridays

May 11, 2018 Giving Arizona Drivers Better Options


Interstate rest stops in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania are often beautiful facilities offering a wide range of food services and other amenities.  Our own rest stops in Arizona are downright depressing by comparison.  This discrepancy can be easily explained: some states are allowed to permit private food vendors to operate at their facilities; Arizona, along with most other states, cannot.


Why is Arizona prohibited from privatizing its rest stops?

The 1956 federal law establishing the Interstate Highway System prohibited the privatization of interstate rest areas constructed after January 1, 1960.  Because most states in the South and West, including Arizona, developed their infrastructure later than the rest of the country, these states generally do not have interstate rest stops dating to before 1960.  As a result, Arizona will be effectively prohibited from commercializing its rest stops until changes are made to legislation that dates to before most Arizonans were even born.


Why would commercial rest stops be good for Arizonans?

Commercial rest stops would obviously allow drivers a far wider range of food options and amenities than the bare-bones services the state facilities currently offer.  But that is not the only benefit: because rest stops in Arizona are funded by the state, privatizing them will save taxpayer dollars.  Governor Ducey, who has been a major champion of privatization, estimates that commercial rest stops could bring in far more revenue than the $4 million it currently costs taxpayers each year to maintain the facilities.


What am I doing about this?

Last year, I cosponsored legislation offered by my colleague Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) that would remove all restrictions on private food services and concessions at interstate rest areas.  That bill, H.R. 1990, is awaiting action in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.  More recently, the Trump administration has indicated that it would like to see rest stop privatization included in any major new infrastructure package. 


What are they saying?

"Arizona's breathtaking landscapes make it a national road trip destination, but an archaic and nonsensical federal law prevents many western states, including Arizona, from exploring public-private partnerships for interstate rest areas. As a result, our 16 highway rest stops -- many of which were built back in the 1960's and 70s -- cost Arizona taxpayers close to $4 million a year to maintain and the ability upgrade them is limited. These laws need to be updated so that states like Arizona can expand opportunities to improve our rest stops for Arizona residents and visitors." Doug Ducey, Governor of Arizona

“Interstate rest areas each require hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to maintain—creating a large cumulative burden for cash-strapped states that have real infrastructure needs. Giving states the option of bringing in private vendors to operate rest areas would be a win-win for travelers and taxpayers. Private vendors would take up the responsibility of revitalizing and maintaining the rest areas—allowing states to dedicate those funds to other infrastructure priorities—and could benefit local governments with additional funding from concessions and operations, as has been the case with successful private rest areas in Maryland. Travelers would benefit from more options and safer, more convenient access to travel amenities. While it may not be prudent to privatize each and every rest stop, states should at least have the option to assess their needs and explore the opportunity.” Michael Sargent, The Heritage Foundation