"Later this month, cash-strapped Virginia plans to barricade entrances and switch off the plumbing and electricity at nearly half its highway rest areas. Other states also are lowering budgetary axes on the public pit stops that have lined the interstate highway system since its creation in 1956.
"But rest stops aren't going quietly.
"Truckers, blind merchants and a dogged historian are fighting to preserve them. If the battle is lost, every long-distance motorist will need "a strong rear end and a strong bladder" to hit the road, warns John Townsend, an official with the American Automobile Association in Washington.
There are about 2,500 rest areas along the interstates. State governments build and maintain them. Most have remained steadfastly utilitarian: a parking lot, a simple building with toilets, a few picnic benches, and maybe some vending machines. Because many of the interstates bypassed cities and towns, travelers often had no other options when they needed to pull off the road.
But over the years, big clusters of gas stations, fast-food outlets and motels have sprung up just off interstate exits in all but the most remote parts of the country. A national directory lists nearly 2,500 privately owned truck stops, each with at least 10 parking spaces and two showers. Even Wal-Mart Stores Inc. -- which permits overnight stays by recreational vehicles at most of its more than 4,000 locations -- offers a popular alternative to old-fashioned rest areas.
A growing number of states have come to see rest areas as obsolete. Rather than spend the money on maintenance and repairs, states began closing them.
Louisiana has closed 24 of its 34 rest areas since 2000, four of them last year. Maine, Vermont and Colorado have recently announced plans to shutter more rest areas because of cash constraints. Rhode Island, Tennessee, Arizona and others are thinking of doing likewise."