CHOKEPOINTS

Rest areas: what’s working, what’s not? WSDOT looks for the public’s input

Jun 30, 2022, 6:26 AM | Updated: 11:07 am

As you drive around the state during the 4th of July weekend, make a note of what you see at rest areas. The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is doing a complete review of them, and it needs your feedback.

Are the restrooms clean? Did you use the free coffee service? Did you feel safe?

Take some mental notes if you hit any of the state’s 47 rest areas this weekend or over the summer, and then tell WSDOT what you think is working or what you would like to see improved.

WSDOT’s Tina Werner said the agency is performing its first full review of the system in 24 years, and it needs your thoughts as it decides what the rest areas will look like going forward.  “This is an opportunity for the public to provide comment and provide feedback on our facilities, the cleanliness of our facilities, on what’s being offered,” she said.  “Everything down to the maintenance of the sites as well as our free coffee program, electric charging stations, available parking and more.”

24 million people use Washington’s rest areas every year. Truck drivers use the 500 commercial spaces to get their mandatory 11-hour breaks, but truck drivers continue to tell me that finding a parking spot can be difficult. It’s become harder at some rest areas, like Smokey Point in Arlington, which are routinely full of RVs and broken down cars. As the State Patrol calls it, “encampments disguised as parking.”

That’s something WSDOT is well aware of.  “It’s really important to WSDOT that we have available parking stalls available for people that are traveling, its intended purpose, as well as making sure we have available freight parking,” Werner said.

Werner said WSDOT needs to know if it needs more rest areas or if it should scale them back. There are a lot more opportunities to find a bathroom on long trips than there were when the first ones went in 50 years ago.  “When I travel across the state with my family sometimes we’ll stop at a Starbucks and get the kids something to drink and use the restroom there,” Werner said.  “There has been a lot of development so maybe not as many people are using our safety rest areas as they once were.”

No feedback is bad feedback for this survey, which is available through Labor Day. I filled it out in about five minutes, and there is plenty of room for comments.

The one question I have had for years is why the state doesn’t have more hybrid rest areas, like the ones I used all the time in the Midwest. They have restaurants, gas stations and other amenities. Some are even built above the freeway median.

Werner said the legislature would need to act to allow those kind of services.

But they might not be necessary. In my recent road trips, I have seen a lot more service centers popping up, where you can take care of all of your business in one stop.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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