Rest Area Commercialization
Last Updated: March 31, 2022
Within the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and come Congressional offices, there are those who support overturning the prohibition of commercial services, such as food and fuel retailing, at Interstate rest areas. In addition, advocates of expanding the electric vehicle (EVs) charging network want EV charging to be exempt from the ban on commercialization at rest stops. 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.
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, including EV charging at 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 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. In addition, NACS opposes allowing EV charging at rest areas and has been working closely with other fuel retailing associations to stop these efforts.
In the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill that became law at the end of 2021, there was no language included to overturn the ban on rest area commercialization. In addition, NACS, with other key stakeholders, stopped efforts by the White House and Congressional leaders to allow EV charging at rest areas. NACS continues to monitor efforts within the U.S. Department of Transportation to change these policies.