Rest Area Commercialization

Last Updated: January 23, 2019

The Issue

Congress is working on legislation in response to the release of President Donald Trump’s infrastructure proposal.  In the proposal, the Trump Administration advocates overturning the prohibition of commercial services, such as food and fuel retailing, at Interstate rest areas.  When the federal interstate system was created in 1956, lawmakers sought to protect local communities and encourage commercial development along the highway system by prohibiting states from commercializing rest areas on the Interstate right-of-way.  As the interstate system has grown, merchants, such as convenience and fuel retailers, restaurants, truck stops, hotels and car washes, have built their businesses along these highways near the interchanges.  As Congress drafts infrastructure legislation, policymakers will be searching for funding sources, including private-public partnerships, to improve our nation’s highways, roads and bridges. 

Retail Impact

Convenience retailers serve about 160 million people every day – around half of the U.S. population and employ 2.7 million people.  Many of these retailers are located off federal highways.  Commercializing rest areas would result in an unfair competitive environment for privately operated businesses located close to the interstate system.  Allowing state governments to unfairly compete with private businesses – such as convenience and fuel retailers – for the services of interstate motorists would create monopolies on the sale of services to highway travelers and lead many of these retail businesses to close.

Some states who support rest area commercialization assert that this change will raise revenue for the state to meet budgetary shortfalls.  However, this commercial activity is not new commercial activity.  It is simply redirected activity away from small businesses that are located off highway interchanges to the state-run rest area.  Moreover, when a state essentially has a monopoly on the provision of services at an Interstate right-of-way, it destroys marketplace competition and, by extension, the competitive pricing that benefits consumers.

NACS Position

NACS opposes overturning the ban that prohibits commercial services at rest areas.  NACS is part of a broad anti-commercialization coalition, which includes the National League of Cities, the National Restaurant Association, and the National Federation of the Blind.