Drivers get more rest-stop relief from states

Truck drivers facing mounting stress from tightening social restrictions amid the COVID-19 crisis received some relief over the weekend along the nation’s interstate system.

On Friday, April 3, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) suspended enforcement of rules that prohibit states from allowing commercial food trucks to do business at rest areas that receive federal funding. In addition, the state of Arizona opened two interstate rest stops that have been closed since 2002 and 2009. Both actions are being done on a temporary basis to help the industry cope with restrictions triggered by the coronavirus.

“America’s commercial truck drivers are working day and night during this pandemic to ensure critical relief supplies are being delivered to our communities,” said FHWA Administrator Nicole Nason. “I am grateful to our state transportation partners for bringing this idea to the Department and for their leadership in thinking outside the box. It is critical to make sure truck drivers continue to have access to food services while they’re on the job serving our nation during these challenging times.”

According to FHWA’s notice, the agency will not take enforcement actions against any state that determines that allowing food trucks to operate and sell food at federal interstate rest areas is necessary to support drivers. The “enforcement discretion” will last for the duration of the national emergency that President Donald Trump declared on March 13 that led to the suspension of hours-of-service rules.

In Arizona, the Christensen Rest Area on Interstate 17 south of Flagstaff at milepost 324, which has been closed since 2002, and the Parks Rest Area on Interstate 40 west of Flagstaff at milepost 182, which has been closed since 2009, now offer parking, portable toilets and handwashing stations exclusively for commercial vehicle drivers.

“Long-haul truckers are working tirelessly to support our nation during this difficult time, and we will do all we can to support them,” said John Halikowski, director of the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), in an April 3 statement. “Opening these temporary rest stops provides a place for drivers to get the rest they need as they help all of us.”

Crews have restriped the parking lots of both rest areas, and installed portable toilets, handwashing stations, and trash bins, according to ADOT, noting that staff will be available at the stops for “a few hours” per day.Rest stop availability has emerged as a critical issue for commercial drivers as the COVID-19 crisis continues to spread throughout the U.S.

The State of Pennsylvania partially reopened 13 rest areas in March after the state’s trucking association raised concerns about the state’s closing of 65 rest areas in response to the pandemic.

In addition, privately operated travel plazas essential to truckers hauling critical freight during the crisis are balancing social distancing and serving hungry drivers and those wanting a shower.