- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 27, 2009

ROANOKE | Virginia will keep its interstate highway rest areas open through the Fourth of July holiday weekend, even though money to operate them has run out.

Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Britt Drewes said Thursday that the 19 rest areas scheduled to be closed will stay open until later in July. Exact closing dates have not been decided.

The decision to close the rest areas came as the Commonwealth Transportation Board earlier this month pared $538 million from the state highway system’s six-year spending plan, effective July 1.

Ms. Drewes said the department is working with tourism officials to get the word out about rest area closings.

Before the areas are closed, she said, highway officials will post signs at all of Virginia’s interstate welcome centers. A message will be on the department’s Web site, as well as its 511 notification system.

Signs along the highways giving the distance to the next rest area also will be changed, Ms. Drewes said.

Highway officials initially had planned to close 25 of the state’s 42 interstate rest areas, but an outcry at a series of public hearings prompted them to keep six of them open.

Four of those are along Interstate 81, where the state will close seven rest areas.

Interstates 95 and 85 will lose four rest areas each, with two apiece shutting down along Interstates 64 and 66.

Ms. Drewes said when the rest areas are closed, crews will place barricades at the entrances and winterize the plumbing.

“I don’t support the image” of decaying rest areas along Virginia’s highways, Gov. Tim Kaine said on a Richmond Times-Dispatch webcast.

But he called the planned closures “the best choice” given the resources available to the Department of Transportation.

Mr. Kaine said the state is talking with members of Congress about how to get a federal waiver that would enable commercial entities to operate at state rest stops.

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