States built many rest areas in the 1960s and 1970s. Now a lot of those structures have reached the end of their useful lives.
Sadly for me, the 48-year-old Maryland House is one of them. My family stopped there for the last time in June on the way to my cousin’s wedding. The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) recently entered into an agreement with Areas USA to tear down and rebuild the Maryland House and its nearby sibling, the Chesapeake House. The Delaware Department of Transportation similarly worked with longtime partner HMSHost to rebuild the Delaware Welcome Center Travel Plaza on I-95 near Wilmington. The new facility opened in 2010.
The Maryland House closed in September, with a new building scheduled to open in December 2013, at which time the Chesapeake House, now 36 years old, will close. The new Chesapeake House should debut in September 2014.
Both facilities “had become worn down and somewhat functionally obsolete for some time now,” said MDTA executive secretary Harold Bartlett. To my sentimental relief, he said that the MDTA had decided to salvage and preserve the Maryland House’s murals, though they won’t be back in the new building.
The public-private partnership between Areas and the state calls for the company to build and manage the facilities while sharing revenue with Maryland.
That revenue will come from gas stations and food vendors. At the Maryland House, Bartlett said, travelers can expect to grab food from Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Phillips Seafood, Nathan’s Famous, Jerry’s Subs & Pizza, Carvel, Auntie Anne’s and Currito. Wendy’s, Earl of Sandwich, Pizza Hut, KFC, Caribou Coffee and Wetzel’s Pretzels will be options at the Chesapeake House.
Commerce and cool stuff
The right to offer such commercial outlets is the exception rather than the rule. Federal regulations from the early years of the interstate system prohibit commercial activities on the interstate right-of-way. Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland are among the states that have been allowed to get around the rule, because their toll roads and privately run sites predated the law or because they were granted other exemptions.
The commercial ban was intended to prevent monopolies for services and to ensure that travelers didn’t feel pressured to buy things, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Efforts to move toward privatization have met with resistance from the National Association of Truck Stop Operators and other business owners who fear that commercialized rest areas on the interstate would draw travelers away from their establishments off the highway exits.