Coalition Speaks Out Against Rest Stop Commercialization
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A measure is currently before the House of Representatives that would overturn the 50-year-old ban on the sale of food, fuel and other convenience items at interstate rest stops.
The measure -- known as Amendment 217 of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 -- is supported across the aisle by its authors, Ohio Reps. Steven LaTourette (R) and Dennis Kucinich (D). The amendment seeks to reverse the ban and open the door for states to use the rest areas on interstate highways for non-highway uses, such as commercial activities.
Last year, National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) President and CEO Lisa Mullings went before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and urged the members to oppose any move to amend or repeal the federal law banning commercial development on the interstate right-of-way. Any effort, she testified, would represent government intrusion into the private sector and adversely affect the more than 97,000 businesses located at the exits along the country's Interstate Highway System.
Now, The Partnership to Save Highway Communities, a coalition of associations, corporations, small businesses and other stakeholders including NATSO, is also pushing Congress to oppose the amendment. The group is dedicated to ensuring that interstate highway rights-of-way remain free of commercial development, and contends that the move would jeopardize thousands of businesses operating at exits along the country's interstate system.
"This amendment is the biggest threat small business owners have ever faced under a highway bill," said Mullings of NATSO, now a member of the Partnership. "This highway bill was intended to create jobs, but if this amendment is allowed to pass, it will pull the rug out from under the nation's interstate-based fast-food franchisees, convenience stores, gas stations and truck stops. Commercializing interstate rest areas would put exit-based businesses at a considerable disadvantage, likely forcing many out of business. This will have a substantial effect on local communities, increase unemployment, decrease local tax revenues and impede overall economic growth."
The Partnership cited a recent study of commercial rest areas by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that found commercializing rest areas nationwide could cause a 46-percent decrease in sales at interstate-serving gas stations, a 44-percent decrease in sales at interstate-serving restaurants and a 35-percent decrease in truck service sales at interstate-serving truck stops.
Commercialization is allowed along the Ohio Turnpike; however, only 109 businesses operate along the 239 miles of the Turnpike. By comparison, approximately 1,036 businesses operate along the 212 miles of Interstate 75, where businesses are allowed to compete on a level playing field at the interstate exit interchanges, the Partnership noted.
This afternoon, the House approved a rule allowing members to consider a three-part energy and transportation bill. The rule covers the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012, which would authorize $260 billion in federal transportation programs over the next five years. The rule also covers two separate bills that Republican leaders hope will pay for some of that spending, according to a report by The Hill.
House members approved the rule by a 235-186 vote. However, Rep. LaTourette argued on the floor that the approved rule only allows general debate on the highway bill, while consideration of the amendments will depend on a separate rule. The House Rules Committee is now expected to approve the separate rule after the President's Day recess. The congressman, who is opposed to the three-part package, expressed the fear of many Democrats by saying GOP leaders were asking members to trust that amendments will be considered according to a rule no one has seen yet, the news outlet reported.
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said this afternoon's planned committee meeting will be postponed until after the President's Day break. "Because of the nearly 300 amendments submitted to the transportation portion of the plan, and in order to accommodate floor action on the payroll tax compromise, the transportation component will not be considered by the Rules Committee until after the President's Day recess," he said.