DES MOINES — State officials plan to close two highway rest areas and are considering shutting down more of the facilities in an effort to save money.
Paul Trombino, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, said officials have decided not to replace two rest areas along Interstate 80 near Des Moines that will be demolished in 2015 as part of a freeway interchange project. There aren’t plans to remove any of Iowa’s 38 other full-service rest areas, but some will likely be shuttered in coming years as the state tries to cut costs and prioritize infrastructure projects, Trombino said.
“There will be fewer rest areas in the state as we go into the future. There is no question about that,” Trombino told The Des Moines Register.
The 40 rest areas cost the state about $6.1 million annually to operate. The two rest areas set to close accommodated nearly 730,000 travelers in 2012.
Trombino said most of Iowa’s rest areas were built in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since then, many businesses have sprung up along the highways that cater to motorists, making rest areas less essential, he said.
Some travelers who stopped at the Interstate 80 rest area slated for closure had a different view.
“I just don’t feel comfortable stopping at a gas station if we are not going to buy anything,” said Dianne Heimendinger, of Bettendorf, who was driving with her husband to Colorado. “I would prefer a rest area like this to walk around, picnic, that sort of thing.”
Johnnie Rodarte, a Council Bluffs resident who was driving with his wife to Des Moines, said he prefers the rest areas to truck stops, where he often feels he’s wading through lines of customers.
“If it was me, I wouldn’t close these rest areas,” Rodarte said. “I think it is a good idea to keep them open.”
Representatives of some truck stops said they would welcome the increased business if the state closed rest areas.
Delia Meier, senior vice president of the Iowa 80 Truckstop near Walcott, said people are welcome to stop, even if they only want to use a restroom.
“People do not have to buy something to use our facilities and to park here,” Meier said.
Bill Walljasper, chief financial officer, at Casey’s General Stores, agreed.
“We are always looking to drive customer traffic,” he said. “I wouldn’t know any retailer who wouldn’t want increased customer traffic.”