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Arizona Governor Pushes for Rest Area Commercialization

NACS has long opposed attempts that would weaken existing law prohibiting interstate rest areas from offering commercial services such as food and fuel.
December 7, 2017

​ALEXANDRIA, Va. – NACS is supporting transportation and retail industry coalition efforts to combat a move by certain Arizona delegates to commercialize interstate rest areas.

When the Interstate Highway System was created in 1956, community leaders feared that local businesses, jobs and tax bases would shrink as truckers and other motorists bypassed their cities and towns. As a result, Congress prohibited development on interstate rights of way. The law prohibits interstate rest areas built after January 1, 1960, from offering commercial services such as food and fuel.

In a letter dated Nov. 6, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to allow his state’s transportation department to establish commercial rest areas along the Interstate right-of-way under a pilot program called SEP-15.

Gov. Ducey is asking the U.S. Transportation Department to allow his state to sell goods and services to travelers, a move that would displace many of the restaurants, travel plazas, truckstops, convenience stores and other businesses that already exist at highway exits throughout the state.

The coalition that NACS supports shared its opposition to Arizona’s efforts in a letter to the state’s members of Congress: “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. 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,” notes the coalition letter.

The letter continues that in many rural communities located near Interstates, convenience stores, restaurants, truckstops and hotels represent the largest local tax base, contributing more than $22.5 billion in state and local taxes—funds that help support schools, police and fire departments and
other vital public services.

“Commercializing rest areas would destroy the property tax base of local governments and put many companies out of business that have built their business model on access to the Interstate. The damage to thousands of local businesses means the cities and towns that rely on those businesses for tax revenues will be challenged to make up a substantial budgetary shortfall.”

NACS has long been opposed to efforts that would allow for rest area commercialization. Over the years, NACS has worked with other businesses that have locations just off the highway system to help reserve this competitive market that has proven beneficial for both consumers and businesses. Rest area commercialization results in an unfair competitive environment for privately operated interchange businesses, and will ultimately destroy a successful economic business model. NACS advocacy efforts continue to maintain the current prohibition of rest area commercialization, and we will reject any attempts to weaken existing law.