Private companies may get role at Va. rest stops

-A A +A
By Landmark News Service

Virginia’s highway rest areas soon could have paid sponsorships, advertising, more vending machines and other services for travelers.
Gov. Bob McDonnell announced last week that the state is soliciting bids from private firms for a program that would help defray the cost of operating and maintaining the state’s 42 highway rest areas. One of them is in Carroll County on Interstate 77 at the North Carolina state line.
The program has been dubbed Sponsorship, Advertising and Vending Enhancement, or SAVE.
The Virginia Department of Transportation would contract with a private company to develop, implement and manage the program. There’s no estimate yet on how much revenue the program might generate for the state.
The program could enable companies to sponsor certain amenities and advertise at the state’s rest areas and welcome centers, and to manage vending at the facilities.
“These facilities serve a critical role in providing a safe place for travelers to rest and providing information to tourists, businesses and commuters on the many attractions and services the commonwealth has to offer,” McDonnell said in a statement released by his office.
“By partnering with the private sector, we will save taxpayer dollars, and keep our rest areas and welcome centers open.”
McDonnell’s predecessor, Gov. Tim Kaine, ordered the closing of 19 rest areas in 2009 as a cost-cutting measure, hoping to generate $9 million in annual savings.
Responding to a harsh public backlash, McDonnell vowed to reopen all of the facilities and did so during his first few months in office.
The rest areas serve more than 90,000 travelers per day.
McDonnell last year directed VDOT to come up with long-term plans for generating money from the rest areas. Earlier this month, he signed legislation that will allow state prison inmates to perform some maintenance functions at the rest areas.
Virginia has been unable to get federal approval to fully privatize its rest areas. But the SAVE program will “utilize the opportunities that currently exist under federal and state law to acknowledge sponsorships, sell products from vending machines and disseminate information of specific interest to the traveling public,” according to the state’s formal request for proposals.
“The SAVE program is one of several steps we are taking to address the costs of maintaining and operating these critical facilities,” said Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton.
“Last fall VDOT issued new maintenance contracts for the facilities, and the department continues to work with the public and private sectors to develop other innovative alternatives to the current operating structure.”