A few weeks ago, the State of Wyoming announced that a significant number of rest areas across the State were being closed permanently. The reason given was to save money; fuel excise tax revenues and sales tax revenues had dropped significantly due to the Pandemic Panic and the Lockdown – and the resulting worldwide economic collapse.
As a lover of liberty, my emotions and reasoning are very mixed in this matter. This is a good opportunity to think about and discuss socialism, government services, and the role of private businesses in past and modern societies.
Wyoming has some of the finest rest areas in the Great Plains and Rockies. They are modern, well-designed and -built, and offer many essentials and amenities. In one of the least populated States of the Union, it is necessary to travel long distances. Many small towns themselves offer few resources for the traveler. In an era when insanely excessive governmental regulation dominates our daily lives, the rest areas along both the Interstate Highways and major US and State highways provide safe and important locations where truckers (and many other travelers) are able to take breaks for necessary hygiene and naps to meet Hours of Service regulations. They also are valuable as locations to meet, transfer cargos, and to be located in case of breakdowns. For travelers with children, most have nice play areas. They offer communications: cellular towers serving otherwise empty regions, payphones, internet hotspots, and travel information. Very few are manned visitor information centers, but often have a WDOT employee and his family living on-site to do maintenance and provide other services in case of emergencies or serious problems. The rest areas are designed to be both pleasant and environmentally friendly, a place to dispose of wastes from RVs and campers, waste that would otherwise litter highways, fresh potable water, and lighted, safe areas of refuge in storms, breakdowns, or even sickness. Most feature signs and exhibits for safety and driver education, geology, history, industry, and ecology. Many have been built or rebuilt in the last five years. They are open twenty-four/seven, 365 days a year.
Or they were. There were 37 of them – now there are 27. 10 were closed on 15 June 2020, only 10 days after the decision was made.
I am familiar with many of these, as my family and I are frequent users of many. Places with names like Mule Creek Junction, Independence Rock, Meridian (near Hawk Springs), Orin Junction, Dwyer Junction, Chugwater, and Lusk are all familiar to us from decades of travel for work and family. Four of these are now gone, leaving just Independence Rock, Meridian and Mule Creek Junction. Those are about 50 miles from the nearest privately-owned facilities and parking open to the public: the others varied from a mile or two to as much 20 miles – a long way for a three- or four-year-old, or in a sudden blizzard. And the nearest facilities are often NOT open 24 hours.
Although Wyoming was one of the Axis of Evil which did not have a dictatorial decree of total Lockdown, some localities (Cheyenne, Laramie, Casper, Jackson) DID, and many large business owners decided to close at least some activities: indoor, outdoor, or drive-in eating (allowing only drive-through or carry-out); in-store sales, public use of toilets, and so on.
These closures are major inconveniences. Especially to families, the elderly, and truckers. Truckers have to park someplace and cannot always arrange their hours and miles to be someplace both safe and nice: now more and more will be forced (to avoid fines and even loss of their commercial “driving privileges”) to stop on a shoulder wide spot or a vacant lot in a town or near-ghost town. (Despite its wide-open spaces and being known as one of the most heavily-armed of states (private citizens), Wyoming has a problem with non-official predators (often disguising themselves as official ones). Women are at risk if they stop in bad locations.) Many areas have NO cellular phone coverage, and CBs are no longer common.
Driving on our highways is safer when people have safe, good places to stop, take care of personal needs, rest and refresh themselves before continuing on their journey. Especially in the second least-populated State (and sixth largest in area) in the Fifty States.
So, did government, by ceasing to provide a service given for decades, put people at risk? Definitely something to consider.
We’ll discuss more considerations in the next part. Please join the discussion. Is it a good or bad thing, overall and in particulars, to have these facilities closed?