By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 21, 2010; B03
RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) announced Wednesday that the state will reopen 19 highway rest stops that were shuttered this summer because of budget cuts.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board's unanimous vote Wednesday makes good on a campaign pledge to reopen the rest stops closed by McDonnell's predecessor, Timothy M. Kaine (D).
Four of the rest stops will reopen by Feb. 17. Eight more will be reopened by March 17, and the final seven by April 17.
The rest stops will be reopened using private contributions through an "adopt a rest stop" program and $3 million from the state's maintenance reserve fund. The state will also employ the labor of nonviolent prison inmates.
"There are very few things I have heard more about in the last six months that have been a source of discontent and inconvenience to the citizens than not being able to access those rest stops," McDonnell told reporters after the board's meeting. "For travelers to come to Virginia and see tape across the entrance to the rest stop and a big 'closed' sign, it's a bigger sign that Virginia is closed for business."
The board voted in June to reduce the number of open rest stops from 42 to 23 as the state grappled with a $4.6 billion, six-year budget shortfall. Eighteen facilities were closed in July, and the Interstate 66 West Manassas Welcome Center was shut down in September. Each rest stop costs about $500,000 a year to maintain and keep open.
"The decision to reopen these is a victory for drivers, truckers and common sense," said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA. "Now, drivers don't have to travel for miles and miles just to take a bathroom break in a clean, safe and sanitary facility along the busiest interstates in the state."
Three new board members who replaced Kaine appointees changed the vote from last summer. The new members included Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.