“We think it's a great service,” she said. “It has to be available. It's a matter of who makes it available is what the debate is.”
Some motorists now prefer making just one stop, and they want to get fuel at the same time while taking a restroom break, Angier said.
Cesar Morales said he wouldn't prefer a commercial developer take over the rest stop near Pauls Valley. Morales and his wife, Angela, usually stop there on trips from their home in Pingree Grove, Ill., to visit their son in Houston. They pack a picnic lunch with fruits and vegetables when they bring along their grandchildren, Amanni, 4, and Jasany, 6, as they did last week.
“It's healthier and better,” Morales said. “Sometimes it's cheaper, too ... We can walk around, use the restrooms and relax for a little bit.”
As private development has grown, the Transportation Department has closed some of its rest stops because there no longer was a need for them, Angier said. The agency closed a rest stop near Guthrie in 1996; a rest stop on northbound I-35 near the Kansas border and a rest stop on southbound I-35 near the Texas border were closed in the past 20 years.
The Transportation Department also has more than 100 small areas off highways across the state where motorists can stop. Some offer a picnic table and a trash barrel.
Angier said they offer either a scenic view or a spot where truckers and motorists can pull over to take a break or grab a quick nap; 17 are specifically for truckers and can accommodate up to 10 tractor-trailers. Their main purpose is to offer motorists an alternative to parking on the shoulder, putting them and other motorists at risk.
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has moved away from small rest stops built 40 to 50 years ago to modern travel service plazas.
“Those were built at a time when travel was at 50 to 55 mph and not 75 to 80, and so the access in and out of our rest areas just was not safe,” authority spokesman Jack Damrill said. “Most of ours were not lit. It just created an unsafe environment for our customers, and we just didn't want that.”
The authority, which manages the state's 10 turnpikes, has contracts with fuel companies and restaurants to operate the centers.
“We're passing our maintenance costs off to our vendors to save us money,” Damrill said.
It costs millions of dollars to build a rest stop, and annual maintenance runs into several hundred thousand dollars, he said. The old rest stops offered a picnic table and a portable restroom, which were not attractive; they also were in remote areas which caused some public safety concerns.
“We want to drive our customers to the service plazas,” Damrill said. “On most of our turnpikes, our service plazas are located anywhere from 30 to 40 miles between each other. … We want to drive them to a lit, secure area where they hopefully won't have to worry about something happening.”
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