Rest stops nationwide appear to be mostly up and running after PA decision

With Pennsylvania having at least partially backed off its plan to close all rest stops, the question is just what other services may be lacking for drivers on the road.

It does appear that Pennsylvania’s decision to close the rest stops, retracted in part two days later, is an outlier. There are no other reports of states where state-operated rest stops have been closed, according to several agencies following such developments.

Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), told FreightWaves in an email that her organization is chasing down other reports of closures. “We are trying to verify all of that as best we can,” she said. “In some cases, it’s a matter of construction and maybe a rumor gets started because one is closed in a particular state.”

Information on the OOIDA web page about various state actions taken in response to COVID-19 does not list any other rest stop closures beyond the partially retracted ones in the Keystone State.

Texas’ Department of Transportation, in a statement laying out its plans to deal with COVID-19, said it had closed the lobbies of its 12 Travel Information Centers.

But it did say the outside restrooms at those facilities will remain available and be “regularly cleaned.” It also said the rest areas on the state’s highways remain open. “These provide important rest stops for drivers,” the statement said.

Compiled by OOIDA, a list of weight restrictions waived by the states is long. Michigan is one of the states included.

As an example of the type of waiver being granted for weight restrictions, Michigan’s was relatively nonspecific, handed down as an executive order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and stating that all state and local agencies “must exercise their authority on an expedited basis to issue permits that allow non-seasonal load restrictions to be exceeded.” However, it did say the permits needed to reflect bridge weight tolerances.

The reasons for the exemptions would all be tied to COVID-19 needs: delivery of medical supplies; supplies and equipment “necessary for community safety, sanitation, and the prevention of community transmission of COVID-19”; food to restock shelves; and some other uses related to COVID-19 response.

The National Association of Truckstop Owners (NATSO) received a letter earlier this week from Jim Mullen, acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, urging the nation’s truck stops to remain open 24 hours, describing that need as “critical.” But the major national truck stop chains are reporting no cutback in hours and operations.

In response to questions from FreightWaves, Tiffany Neuman, a spokeswoman for NATSO, said the truck stops are staying open. “They continue to report that they are serving truck drivers as they work to restock the merchandise that is quickly being sold at retail outlets as Americans stock up,” she wrote. “Truckstops and travel plazas are committed to serving the professional drivers who are transporting supplies and goods in support of COVID-19 emergency relief.”

But the major chains, on their respective web pages, are all listing restrictions and changes. For example, use of reusable coffee cups is discouraged. Love’s says it is limiting sale quantities of some items “as inventory is depleted on certain in-store merchandise.”

But the biggest list is for those states and locations where food must now be provided by carry-out or delivery, as dining rooms shut because of government mandate or a decision by the chain. As TA Petro said on its web page, “Depending on the applicable government mandate, we may have to bring the food out to you.”

NATSO has requested a waiver on the Hours-of-Service rules for fuel deliveries. In her email to FreightWaves, Neuman also said NATSO had teamed with other food-service groups to ask for a waiver, submitted Wednesday, on the type of food that beneficiaries of food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could buy. The waiver would allow the purchase of hot prepared foods.