Government

Iowa seeks public input on highway rest areas, proposes closing 11 rest stops

Plan proposes closing 11 full-service rest stops in coming years

A man walks Thursday into a Grant Wood-themed rest area on northbound Interstate 380 near Cedar Rapids. Although a management plan proposes closing 11 full-service rest stops in future years, it ranks this stop among the top 10 worthy of future funding consideration. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A man walks Thursday into a Grant Wood-themed rest area on northbound Interstate 380 near Cedar Rapids. Although a management plan proposes closing 11 full-service rest stops in future years, it ranks this stop among the top 10 worthy of future funding consideration. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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The Iowa Department of Transportation is seeking public input on a plan scrutinizing the 37 full-service rest areas that line Iowa’s interstate system and recommending some be closed.

The Iowa Statewide Rest Area Management Plan includes proposals to shutter 11 rest areas over a 30-year span and close another 15 parking-only rest sites over a 15-year period. All told, the closures could spell about $30 million in savings over two decades.

Iowa DOT spokeswoman Andrea Henry said the potential closures are just proposals, and public input will be collected until September 2019. A final plan would need approval from the Iowa Transportation Commission to take effect.

Part of the reason for the long public input window, Henry said, is that the rest area plan will work in conjunction with a separate effort that entails a dynamic commercial truck parking availability system that aims to log in real-time parking capacities among several Midwest states including Iowa.

“We want to look at those two things in tandem, both our recommendations for closures and the future of rest areas as well as this truck parking availability system to figure out the impact it’s having on truck parking particularly,” Henry said.

According to the Iowa DOT, the federal government requires regular access to rest areas along an interstate system. Many of Iowa’s rest stops were built decades ago to meet regulations, but a growing network of alternatives — like 24-hour gas stations and truck stops — have eliminated the need for some.

The state’s rest area system costs about $3.7 million a year to operate. The current five-year program includes an extra $7.4 million for improvements to several individual rest area facilities.

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Over the last several years, the state has been taking a deeper look at those rest areas, where they’re located, how much they’re used and by whom and what other alternative parking and rest options there are.

Rest areas were ranked on a number of factors including usage, facility age and services, parking space, truck parking availability and demand, nearby 24-hour alternative services and uniqueness.

The 10 highest ranked rest areas are deemed the most deserving of future funding considerations and include the Interstate 380 northbound rest stop south of Cedar Rapids and Interstate 80’s eastbound stop near Tiffin.

The 10 lowest ranked rest stops are considered the least deserving of funds and include I 80’s eastbound stop near Davenport and several stops along Iowa’s western border near Omaha and Sioux City.

Proposed closures of full-service and parking-only rest stops would take place over a 30-year span, if approved. Of those, Davenport’s I-80 eastbound rest area is recommended as the first to close — within one to five years.

Henry said most, if not all, of those closures are aimed at aging rest areas that have reached the end of their life span.

According to the report, replacing a full service rest area is estimated to cost about $3 million. Closing a full-service stop would cost about $700,000 and closing a parking-only site would be about $285,000.

The report goes on to note that, if the recommended closures proceed on the proposed schedule, the Iowa DOT would see as much as $25 million in program savings over 15 years and $30 million in 20 years.

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Henry said the savings would come from eliminating the need for upgrades to aging facilities, as well as utility and maintenance costs.

Read more about the Iowa Rest Area Management Plan and provide input at iowadot.gov/restareaplan.

Proposed full-service rest area closures

Within 1-5 years

• I-80 eastbound in Scott County near Davenport

Within 5-15 years

• I-680 eastbound in Pottawattamie County near Loveland

• I-680 westbound in Pottawattamie County near Loveland

• I-29 northbound in Harrison County

• I-29 southbound in Harrison County

• I-29 northbound in Woodbury County

• I-29 southbound in Woodbury County

• I-35 northbound in Clarke County near Osceola

• I-35 southbound in Clarke County near Osceola

Within 15-30 years

• I-35 southbound in Story County near Story City

Proposed parking-only rest area closures

Within 1-5 years

• I-29 northbound in Woodbury County

• I-80 eastbound in Pottawattamie County

• I-80 eastbound in Cedar County near Wilton

• I-80 westbound in Cedar County near Wilton

• I-35 southbound in Clarke County near Osceola

• I-35 northbound in Warren County near St. Charles

• I-35 southbound in Warren County near St. Charles

• I-35 northbound in Worth County

• I-35 southbound in Story County

• I-29 northbound in Harrison County

• I-29 southbound in Harrison County

• I-29 eastbound in Pottawattamie County

• I-29 eastbound in Pottawattamie County

Within 5-15 years

• I-35 northbound in Cerro Gordo County near Clear Lake

• I-35 southbound in Cerro Gordo County near Clear Lake

Source: Iowa Department of Transportation

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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