PHOENIX — In a bid to update the state's aging rest areas, Arizona Gov. Douglas Ducey wants to be able to commercialize highway locations; however, a coalition of industry groups is speaking out against the effort.
In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last month, Ducey requested permission to operate the state's 28 highway rest areas through a partnership with the private sector under a pilot program.
The governor also asked the administration to work with Congress to eliminate the ban on commercial activities at interstate rest areas.
"Here in the beautiful state of Arizona, we have 28 highway rest stops, and they are aging. Many of these were built in the 1960s and '70s, and are now 40-plus years old. The annual cost to Arizona taxpayers to maintain these rest stops is close to $4 million," Ducey wrote. "Eventually, they will need to be rebuilt, costing many millions of dollars."
He pointed out that other states have used public-private partnerships to provide better, safer, and more modern rest stop facilities, while actually bringing revenue into their state budgets.
"But in Arizona, we face a major roadblock to these partnerships: An archaic and nonsensical federal prohibition that punishes younger states, especially in the West," he explained. "Current law allows only states with existing partnerships, most dating back to the late 1950s, to have such activities at interstate rest areas, while the vast majority of states are denied that same benefit."
However, this week a coalition of organizations — most representing small businesses, as well as cities and local governments — sent a letter of its Arizona's elected federal representatives voicing opposition to Ducey's efforts.
Included in the coalition are NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing; NATSO; SIGMA; the National Restaurant Association; the National Federation of the Blind; and the Petroleum Marketers Association of America.
The organizations acknowledge the need to update the country's infrastructure, and support any efforts that would create jobs, commercializing rest areas would hurt jobs and local economies.
"While at first glance rest area commercialization seems like an easy and convenient way to generate revenue, that fact is it will jeopardize private businesses that for the last 60 years have operated under the current law and established locations at the highway exit," the coalition wrote.
"Due to their advantageous locations, state-owned commercial rest areas would establish virtual monopolies on the sale of services to highway travelers. Commercial activity will be diverted from off-highway communities to on interstate locations, redirecting tax revenue from localities to state capitals," it added.
Commercialization would also impact cities and towns, hurt customers, impact the livelihood of blind merchants, and constrict truck parking capacity.
To read the full letter, click here.