- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

RICHMOND | The Virginia Department of Transportation closed 18 rest areas Tuesday as part of a plan to cut nearly $9 million in expenses from a strained state budget.

Crews worked through the night to place orange barrels at entrance ramps of the rest stops to signal their closure, VDOT spokesman Jeff Caldwell said. The final rest areas were blocked off Tuesday morning. No problems were reported.

Seven rest stops along Interstate 81, four on I-95, four on I-85, two on I-64, and one on I-66 were closed. The welcome center on I-66 in Manassas will shut down in mid-September.

The agency also will change interstate signs and use electronic highway boards to reflect the closures.

State transportation officials last month decided 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 area costs about $500,000 to operate annually.

AAA Mid-Atlantic called on Gov. Tim Kaine to find the money to reopen the rest stops.

“Highway safety, not to mention comfort, hospitality and tourism, have today taken a big hit,” the motorists group’s spokesman, Lon Anderson, said Tuesday in a news release.

Mr. Anderson expressed concern that tired drivers will “zoom past a closed rest area into harm’s way, perhaps hurting others as well.”

Mr. Kaine and state Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer last week sought help from the state’s congressional delegation to let Virginia get around a federal law that bans commercialization of rest stops, but no help arrived.

The shutdowns also have become a campaign issue for the candidates in the gubernatorial race.

Republican Robert F. McDonnell said he would seek to change transportation-funding priorities, ask groups to contribute to rest-area operations and consider using work-release prisoners and people ordered to perform community service to maintain the sites.

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee, has supported efforts to change the law to allow state rest areas to be commercialized. Mr. Deeds has said he’d reopen them within 60 days of becoming governor.

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