Don't commercialize rest areas: Coalition

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The Senate was urged on March 8 to oppose Amendment 1742 of highway transportation legislation, S. 1813, by the Partnership to Save Highway Communities (PSHC). The organization claims this amendment jeopardizes thousands of businesses operating at exits along highways throughout the United States.

Authored by Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, this amendment seeks to overturn the law forbidding selling food, fuel and convenience items at interstate rest areas. Instead, the coalition argues it would allow state Departments of Transportation to beef up budget shortfalls at the expense of small businesses by permitting commercial activities in rest areas along the highway.

PSHC claims Portman's amendment threatens approximately 97,000 small businesses operating within a quarter mile of the Interstate Highway System, plus threatens the jobs of more than 2 million Americans.

Contrary to claims that Sen. Portman's amendment represents a move to privatize rest areas, Congress effectively privatized highway services long ago, the organization continues. Congress prohibited states from offering commercial services at rest areas along the Interstate Highway System in 1960, specifically so that private-sector entities would grow and provide services to the motoring public.

"The government is not in the business of selling food and fuel; the private sector is already meeting that need," said Lisa Mullings, National Association of Truck Stop Operators president and chief executive officer and PSHC member. "Sen. Portman's amendment is a move to expand government, at a cost to existing businesses."

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found in a recent study of commercial rest areas that commercializing rest areas throughout the US could cause a 44 percent decrease in sales at Interstate-serving restaurants, among other things.

Members of the PSHC include the National Restaurant Association, McDonald's Corporation, Burger King Corporation, Association of Kentucky Fried Chicken Franchisees, Brinker International, Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association, OSI Restaurant Partners (Outback Steakhouse and other brands), Taco Bell Franchise Management Advisory Council and Yum! Brands, among other groups and businesses.

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