Connecticut unloads on truckers, will close rest areas

The state of Connecticut, in an effort to close a budget gap, will be closing all seven of its non-commercial rest areas in the state, and with those closures will come a significant decrease in the number of available parking spaces for truckers.

(UPDATE at 1:40 p.m.: A deal has been reached to keep the rest areas open.)

The first two areas, in Willington, CT, along Interstate 84 (the main highway crossing from New York to Massachusetts, will close on July 1. The remaining five – in Danbury and Southington along 84, Middletown and Wallingford along I-91 (which runs from the shoreline to Massachusetts), and North Stonington, on I-95 (the route from New York to Rhode Island toward Boston), will all close within a year, the state said.

Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, told the Hartford Courant that the state is already short as many as 1,300 truck parking spaces each night now. The closings will only make that problem worse.

“Secretary Raymond LaHood of the [U.S. Department of Transportation] has identified driver fatigue as a major cause of truck accidents,” Riley wrote in a letter to Gov. Dannel Malloy (D). “We do not want tired truckers traveling into and through this state. The provision of safe and decent rest areas for truckers is a serious safety issue.”

According to a press release from the state DOT, the closures will save nearly $1.3 million a year in staff and maintenance costs not including an expected $14 million savings in capital improvement costs that would be necessary to keep the facilities open.

“It is anticipated that private roadway services located off the Interstates will be sufficient to handle the traveler needs,” the DOT said in the release.

Rep. Antonio Guerrera (D), the co-chairman of the transportation committee, told the Courant that the plan to close the rest areas was not sent through his committee’s public hearing process, instead was inserted into the state’s nearly $20 billion budget package that was recently signed into law.

“People are saying they travel through the state and like to use the rest area for the ladies room or the men’s room,” Guerrera told the Courant. “And there’s a serious impact to this, which people don’t realize: If we close these, a lot of trucks will get off the highway, start going on your local roads looking for areas to sleep, or looking for somewhere to go to the bathroom. And we’ll see an uproar now saying, why are all these trucks traveling on the secondary roads?”

This decision by Connecticut seems short-sighted and ill-conceived, especially if what Riley says about the available truck parking spaces holds true. While the state, like most, has budget problems, it seems that the leadership is putting a price tag on truckers’ safety and it’s $1.3 million.