The Virginia Department of Transportation is proposing to close 25 of the state’s 41 freeway rest stops in a cost-cutting measure. In-and-of-itself, my response to this is something along the lines of, “whatever.” I don’t use rest stops often, and I don’t see why people can’t pull into a gas station or fast food restaurant to rest (and contribute to the local economy) on their long journeys.

Then it dawned on me: In 2006, VDOT spent over 20 million dollars to renovate and rebuild Virginia rest stops. I criticized this in my 2005 endorsement of Jim Hyland (R) for the 35th District seat in the House of Delegates, since that 20 million dollars could easily have gone toward solving Northern Virginia’s urgent transportation issues, but it got spent on rest stops anyway. Fine. According to VDOT’s web site, the renovated rest stops were:

  • I-66 East, Manassas
  • I-66 West, Manassas
  • I-81 North, Bristol
  • I-81 South, Troutville, Botetourt County
  • I-81 South, Fairfield, Rockbridge County
  • I-81 North, New Market, Rockingham County
  • I-81 South, New Market, Rockingham County
  • I-81 South, Atkins, Smyth County
  • I-64 East, Charlottesville
  • I-64 West, Charlottesville
  • I-64 East, Jerry’s Run, Alleghany County

An additional three were completely rebuilt:

  • I-95 South, Fredericksburg
  • I-81 South, Winchester
  • I-64 West, New Kent

VDOT doesn’t seem to have provided a breakdown of what cost what, but let’s assume (for the sake of argument) that 9 million dollars went to rebuilding the three, and the remaining 11 million dollars went to renovations on the eleven. That sounds reasonable. Based on those made-up-but-reasonable numbers, rebuilds cost 3 million dollars each and renovations cost 1 million dollars each.

After doing this quick-and-dirty math, I looked at VDOT’s list of rest stops that they propose to close (PDF link). Unsurprisingly for VDOT (but surprising by any other standard), six of the eleven rest stops we just finished renovating are on the proposed closure list. Genius. Here are the lucky six:

  • I-66 East, Manassas
  • I-66 West, Manassas
  • I-81 South, Troutville, Botetourt County
  • I-81 North, New Market, Rockingham County
  • I-81 South, New Market, Rockingham County
  • I-81 South, Fairfield, Rockbridge County

I’m almost speechless. 6 million dollars worth of speechless.

I am interested to see how VDOT intends to recoup the 6 million dollars or so in utterly wasted renovation money. One option would be to privatize these rest stops by selling or leasing them to businesses. These new owner/lessee would have to agree to keep the rest stops—parking, bathrooms, vending machines, etc.—fully maintained and accessible to everybody for free, but would be permitted to add restaurants or other attractions. In this scenario, everybody wins: drivers keep their rest stops, VDOT saves their money, and a business gets a great location right on the freeway. Because it makes so much sense, I seriously doubt VDOT is considering this plan.

Another option would be to start charging a Rest Stop Toll. This idea is idiotic, so it’s probably already on VDOT’s radar. It certainly makes as much sense as the Dulles Toll Road still being a toll road more than a decade after its construction was paid off. It also makes as much sense as the idiotic ‘HOT lanes‘ being built on the Capitol Beltway. Rest Stop Tolls would fit right in with most of the other hare-brained ideas floating around Richmond lately.

Of course, the best idea of all would be to follow in the footsteps of George Mason University—a fellow state agency that seems to think it has carte-blanche to operate as a monopolistic business. Just build a darned for-profit hotel at each of the six rest stops. That would clearly be in the ‘public interest’ right?