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Proposed law change would bring food to RI rest areas

Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney and Indiana Congressman Jim Banks have submitted a bill, which would authorize states to allow commercialization of the rest areas. (WJAR)

Rhode Island built a rest area in Lincoln in 2006.

It cost $4.3 million.

Now it has crumbling sidewalks, missing light bulbs, and a restaurant that is barred off with a rolling metal gate.

It’s also closed after 3 p.m. on weekdays, and shut down on weekends. It’s barely used, and there’s one simple reason: It has no food services or shopping options.

A federal law dating to 1956 prohibits commercialization of rest areas on federal highways. The robust rest areas in Connecticut and New Hampshire were grandfathered in. Rest areas on the Massachusetts Turnpike are allowed because it’s a state owned highway.

Some people still come by the Cumberland rest area to walk or bike on the Blackstone Valley bike path. Joan Cronan told NBC 10 News that she misses the chance to buy a drink after her walks.

“You’d like to either have a nice cup of coffee, or a soda, but there’s nothing,” she said. “They have nothing here so you can enjoy yourself.”

Cronan went on to say that there were lots of people at the spot when food was served, before the federal highway department shut down the restaurant.

Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney and Indiana Congressman Jim Banks have submitted a bill, which would authorize states to allow commercialization of the rest areas.

“This legislation will finally provide state governments with the option to enter into public-private partnerships to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of highway rest stops while providing improved amenities to the public,” said Courtney. “The 1956 law that currently blocks the creation of full-service rest stops creates a difficult financial situation for already cash-strapped states. Our bill will allow for public-private partnerships that will cover the cost of providing public restrooms while giving travelers options for food services and convenience shops. I look forward to working with Rep. Banks to build bipartisan support for his common sense alternative.”

President of the Rhode Island Trucking Association Chris Maxwell is firmly supportive of the measure.

“This would take our current rest areas and open them up to retail, and in our case expanded truck parking throughout the country, and really give us the opportunity to promote the state through real welcome stations,” Maxwell said.

It would make the state more welcoming to tourists, and generate income, which could be poured back into road and bridge infrastructure.

NBC 10 has reached out to Rhode Island’s Representatives for their opinion of the bill.

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