Companies bid on Virginia rest area sponsorships, vending

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Companies are making bids that could have a positive impact on your summer road trip.

In response to a March request by Gov. Bob McDonnell, five companies submitted proposals to invest in Virginia's highway rest areas.

We met James Montague and his dog during a pit stop in New Kent, and if the rest area there needs any improvement, he doesn't really see it.

"Not unless they want to throw in a couple of sandwich machines, or something like that, you know?" said Montague, of Newport News.

VDOT's been working on that since late March, when private businesses were encouraged to bid on rest area sponsorships and vending. Five companies submitted bids by last week's deadline, including Sodexho and CRH Catering for functions related to food service, Travelers Marketing and the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association for tourism, and global clean energy company Adopt-A-Watt.

VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley says he's not disappointed by the options.

"It's not about the quantity of vendors or proposer, but rather the quality," Whirley said.

The companies would likely be expected to put up significant sums of money or provide new vending options. But because it's still early, Whirley would not offer specifics on their plans, except for this:

"I am optimistic," he said.

Katherine Keffer of Roanoke has a mixed reaction to the idea of more food options.

"It would be okay, but it would probably make it more congested," Keffer said.

On the other hand, Cole Jackson of Pennsylvania said, "They should have more food in there, I think, so, you know what I mean...small type restaurants."

Restaurants are unlikely because it would require a change in federal law. But sponsorships and improved vending are considered key to offsetting at least some of the $21 million cost of Virginia's highway rest areas.

"We will fund the rest areas," Whirley said.

VDOT will now look closely at the five bids and decide what to do with them by early summer.

VDOT says even if the sponsorships don't offset the entire cost, all of Virginia's 42 rest areas will still remain open.

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