Last week, the State of Wyoming suddenly closed a quarter of its rest areas on Interstates and other highways. Traveling through Wyoming on Friday the 19th, we saw some immediate results as my family passed three of the closed rest areas. All still “proudly” flying federal and state flags behind their flashing red lights and barricade gates. In part one, we discussed details of the action and the reasoning and the situation, and began talking about the role of government, government services, and other issues related to liberty.
Let us continue that discussion. Feel free to chime in.
Many of the small towns and frontier communities depend on the rest areas, when there are no businesses left nearby or only open for limited hours. WDOT claims that only 80 truck parking spaces have been eliminated. I don’t think that they are telling the truth: just the closed rest areas (four of the ten) I frequent have an estimated 80 truck parking spaces which are now closed.
There are also some questions as to why SOME rest areas were closed but not others. Supposedly the closed rest areas are “near” locations which offer services and amenities. You know, toilets and lighted parking areas, and phone and cell service. But the locations raise questions and the WDOT and governor’s office did not provide details of how the particular 10 were selected. (Nor did they say if this was the only phase of closure or if there would be a Phase II.) Sites close by or even in politically-strong cities were not closed, for example.
But exploring the political aspects demands more. People, even lovers of liberty, are strongly divided on government-owned and -maintained, tax- (or fee-) funded highways, and their ancillary features. Like rest areas. Many can and do argue that highways and rest areas are socialist in nature. One of the excuses used for closing these rest areas (by commentators, not the government) was that providing these rest areas free of charge to travelers when there are private businesses that can offer the “amenities” nearby is bad for private business.
After all, if I stop at the Lusk Rest Area to use the toilet, stretch my legs, use their hotspot, drink from their water fountain, and even use the picnic tables to eat lunch, I am therefore less likely to stop at the Fresh Start or Outlaw Truck convenience stores in Lusk to use the toilet, buy their roller-grill hotdogs, fountain sodas, and salty and sugary snacks! So government is competing with private business. Ditto if my friend flushes their RV blackwater tank at the rest area instead of paying 30 dollars to do so at the RV camp in town. Of course, if the rest area is closed, I can’t gather the trash out of my car and throw it away there at the rest area – instead, I add to the trash at the convenience store or to the blowing litter on the highway. (And “feeding” the cows and the deer.)
Those who support this view totally welcome this closure and no doubt demand the other 27 be closed as well. Those who believe that highways are an essential task of government (like defense and recording property records and court resolution of disputes) condemn this, of course. A few rare people point out (rightly) that there are alternatives to closure, just as there are alternatives to government funding of these facilities.
Remember, I point out, that these rest areas are funded by taxes – primarily the fuel excise tax charged on gasoline, diesel, and ethanol purchases for vehicles driving on highways (by the State and Fedgov). These taxes, unlike many, are almost fees – in essence fees for using the highways. Having rest areas is important, as we discussed earlier, to drivers on highways. Not just “nice to have.”
Is it right to have government-run, tax-funded facilities to compete with private business like truck stops and convenience stores and even (to some degree) cafes? Are rest areas something that should be (or is better) provided by local governments (towns or counties) and NOT State government? All these are valid (and useful) questions to ask.
But are there alternatives to closing these? They are costly to run and maintain, and sooner or later, to replace. (Nothing lasts forever.) Costs are driven up by irresponsible users who trash places, damage the site, and otherwise misuse it. Can a private business located one, or twelve, or twenty-plus miles away, provide the same needed services that a rest area does? Including helping reduce fatigued driving, and providing shelter in case of blizzards and such?
Let us continue looking at these things together in Part III. Again, please comment and join the discussion. What do you think?
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Here is North Carolina, private businesses have taken over a lot of the rest areas via contract with the state and maintained them. It has been a win/ win.