- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

RICHMOND (AP) | Virginia’s top transportation official wants Congress to help pave the way for private businesses to operate highway rest areas and head off a budget-cutting plan to close many of the stops next week.

Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer wrote to Virginia’s congressional delegation on Wednesday asking for its help in getting around a federal law that prohibits commercial activities in interstate rest areas.

State transportation officials decided last month to close 19 of the state’s 42 rest stops to help ease a $2.6 billion budget gap over the next six years. Each rest stop costs about $500,000 annually to operate.

“Closing 19 rest areas is not a matter of choice - it is a matter of financial necessity,” Mr. Homer wrote.

The Federal Highway Administration says just a handful of states have received waivers or exemptions from the federal government allowing them to let businesses operate state rest areas.

Some, like Maryland, were grandfathered in before the federal law took effect. Others, like West Virginia, have gotten around the law by putting commercialized rest areas along toll roads.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board passed a resolution in March asking Gov. Tim Kaine to solicit the congressional delegation to amend the law to allow for commercialization. On Thursday, Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said he didn’t know whether Mr. Kaine had spoken to each of the congressmen individually but that the governor has publicly supported the idea.

“Kaine has made his feelings known to anybody who will listen,” Mr. Hickey said.

Unless something changes in the next few days, highway officials will place barricades at the entrances on Tuesday.

Interstate 81 is slated to lose seven rest areas. Four each will shut down along Interstates 95 and 85, and Interstates 64 and 66 will lose two each.

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