WSDOT claims $500M needed to fix state’s ‘declining’ rest stops

Dec 14, 2023, 1:04 PM | Updated: 1:14 pm

wsdot rest stops...

Exterior of a rest stop in WA (MyNorthwest file photo)

(MyNorthwest file photo)

Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) published a strategic plan approximately two weeks ago saying it will take $500 million to bring rest areas up to modern standards.

“We know that, for example, we have women that travel alone. We have families that need more space and stalls,” WSDOT spokesperson Christina Werner said. “We need universal changing tables in our facilities. So that way, we have changing tables that are in men’s restrooms, and not in the women’s restroom. Those are some examples of the feedback that we heard. But we don’t have the funding for any of this.”

Werner said the last time the strategic plan was updated was nearly 15 years ago.

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Werner stated WSDOT will share these new observations alongside some recommendations with the Washington State Legislature, which appropriates the agency’s budget.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the Washington State Legislature to determine whether or not they’re going to fund the replacement and improvement of our existing locations,” Werner said.

WSDOT is planning to update its operational policies and training programs with its staff, but the agency is asking for half a billion dollars to fix all 47 rest areas.

“It’s not just replacing a faucet, for example, or mowing,” Werner continued. “These aren’t just cosmetic improvements that we’re talking about at our rest areas. We have many locations and they’re not meeting the modern needs of our guest area users today.”

Werner cited that certain rest stops need a complete sewer system replacement while others will need to be completely demolished, including ones built 50-60 years ago that would require a complete overhaul “from the ground up.”

“Half a billion dollars — that number seems to be a very common theme lately on pretty much everything that we’re talking about these days,” Washington representative Andrew Barkis said.

He said our rest stops are essential for freight and regular drivers who travel the state. When the state has to shut them down, the rest stops become dangerous for drivers, especially at night.

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“I’m glad [WSDOT] taking a look at this. I think the recommendations are spot on,” Barkis continued. “This is yet another example of mixed or missed priorities, and years of neglect and money going elsewhere. We’ve let it get to this point, and now we have another crisis, and now it’s going to cost us another half a billion dollars to fix it. The last several years, we’ve been watching the decline of our rest stops and the inundation of these areas becoming de facto homeless encampments to the point where it has gotten so bad with crime and vandalism that they weren’t using them.”

KIRO Newsradio reached out to Senator Marko Liias’ office over the proposed budget, who sent the following statement:

“We have several pressing priorities right now and given the associated financial constraints, I believe we may need to explore alternative models like private partnerships and possibly reducing the number of rest stop locations,” Liias’ office wrote in a statement. “Our primary focus for maintenance lies in prioritizing safety enhancements and addressing the issues of aging bridges and ferries.”

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