California Looks to Convert Rest Stops to Travel Plazas

LOS ANGELES -- Jerry Lewis, (R-Calif.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, is attempting to change a federal law that requires gasoline stations, convenience stores and fast-food establishments to be located off of interstates.The effort is a reaction to what Lewis describes as unsafe and unsanitary conditions at California rest stops. His proposal would allow the California government to develop gas stations and truck stops with roadside access similar to those located on Northeastern toll roads.Although Lewis has expressed "hope" that California would target potential sites in remote areas, away from existing businesses, convenience store and truck stop owners have expressed concern over his proposal."We think it's a bad idea," Tom Robinson, president of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA), told CSNews Online. "The California government is looking at this as a funding mechanism for their rest stops, but it unfairly puts the burden on people that have already made significant business investments to provide those services and answer those needs." Robinson is also the CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based Robinson Oil Corp., which operates 28 c-stores."It doesn't really matter which rest areas the state chooses," Jim Caldwell, owner of Castaic, Calif.-based Giant Truck Stops told the Associated Press. "Our competition for truck business is in a radius of 500 miles."The National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO), a trade group representing over 1,100 businesses, is lobbying against the proposal. President W. Dewey Clower cited a 1997 study by the University of Maryland, which states that interchange businesses would lose almost 70 percent of their sales to commercialized state rest stops.Representatives from other states have joined the protest as well. JoAnn Emerson, (R-Mo.) said that passage of the proposal might lead to similar developments in other states, and argued that many rural communities are dependent on business from travelers and truckers that exit the interstate in search of services.Unfortunately, California retailers are facing a difficult fight. Typically, major changes in federal highway policy must be approved by Congressional authorizing committees. Lewis, however, is leveraging his position on the Appropriations Committee to try to place the proposal as arider on the House's annual transportation funding bill. The California House and Senate have already passed versions of the bill. "It will be hard to compete against a state-picked business that would have a monopoly at favorable rates," said Caldwell.
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