RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Virginia's rest areas could soon be brought to you by the highest bidder. The commonwealth is looking to sell sponsorships as a way to raise money.
If you're looking for a quick walk, or a snack; a couple of coupons, or a bathroom break…then Virginia's rest areas and welcome centers offer exactly that. Now, Gov. Bob McDonnell is going for something more.
But what would that be, exactly? Jeff Caldwell is McDonnell's press secretary.
"I think that's what we're trying to find out. This process, where we go out and seek proposals from the private sector, really allows them within the confines of some rules, to be creative in how this would work," Caldwell said.
It's called the "SAVE" program, as in sponsorship, advertising, and vending. That could include naming rights to the lobby, the vending area...or even the bathrooms. What matters is that private companies defray some of the costs to keep these rest areas open.
What the state cannot do is privatize the rest areas. That would take a change to federal law. So you shouldn't expect any fast food restaurants to be moving in.
"There are some exemptions for toll roads and for facilities that were in place before the laws went into effect back in the 60s. But here in the Commonwealth, we are restricted by these federal laws," Caldwell said.
Under Gov. Tim Kaine, 19 rest areas were closed to save money only to be re-opened the following year when McDonnell took office. They cost the state millions to clean and maintain.
"SAVE" encourages companies to figure out new ways to advertise and sell products, but even if the response is below expectations, Caldwell says the rest areas will not close again.
"No, the governor's committed to keeping these rest areas open," he said.
So how many people could the sponsors reach? Virginia has 42 rest areas and welcome centers, which serve an estimated 33 million travelers each year. Proposals are being accepted until May 4.
In another cost-saving move, earlier this year the General Assembly approved a bill that would allow inmates to clean and maintain the rest areas.