The nearest highway rest areas - located on Interstate 70 in the western portion of Belmont County - were recently refurbished as part of a multi-million dollar improvement project by the Ohio Department of Transportation along that stretch of highway. Those rest areas have parking for vehicles of all sizes, restrooms, tourism information and more. They are what you expect of any highway rest area, but in the near future, the traditional interstate rest stop in Ohio may look much different.
A proposal is gaining momentum in the Buckeye State to allow ODOT to rent space in rest areas to private businesses that will operate fuel stations, convenient stores and other facilities that motorists and commercial drivers can patronize during a stop on a long journey.
In fact, ODOT has already invited bids for five rest areas located on stretches of U.S. 23, U.S. 33 and U.S. 50 in Pickaway, Hocking and Athens counties, with additional locations of rest areas on state highways being considered for the same in the future depending on the success of this new effort.
The Ohio Conference of AAA Clubs has endorsed ODOT's plan to provide greater access to gas stations and stores by leasing space at certain rest areas to private businesses. According to the group's president, the state's extensive network of highways makes it easy for motorists and commercial traffic to move across Ohio. It is important to expand services to highway users without increasing taxes, AAA officials noted, maintaining that such measures make our highways easier to use, and thus, safer in the long run.
In addition to providing added conveniences to motorists, lease revenue from gas stations and convenience store companies would, in turn, generate additional funding needed to maintain the state's highway systems.
The plans makes sense, but we hope officials at ODOT use discretion when selecting the types of businesses that go into select rest areas along our highways.
Privatizing can be a good thing, but commercializing can be a turn down the wrong road.