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More Rest Area Closures "Temporary?"

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By Joyce Gramza

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wrvo/local-wrvo-937431.mp3

Oswego, NY – Assemblyman Pete Lopez, of the 127th Assembly District, says he met with the highest ranking staffers at the state DOT and the Thruway Authority to talk about how the closure decision was made to close the six rest areas.

"Our goal is to get these agencies talking together, which they weren't doing in a comprehensive way, and also get them talking to the affected community, the motor freight community," Lopez said.

Lopez brought along members of the affected community, as well as the wife of Oneonta trucker Jason Rivenburg, who was murdered while parked at an abandoned gas station.

Lopez and Senator James Seward are working to pass state and federal legislation, called "Jason's Law," to support adding safe rest areas.

Lopez points out it's not only truckers who need safe places to park.

"My district is bigger than the state of Rhode Island, I have parts of 7 counties the Southern Tier, Northern Catskills and mid-Hudson.

He says of one of the areas being closed, the Worcester rest area, "I've had to pull over and sleep in myself for 15 minutes at 11:30 at night because I didn't have the strength and ability to get home without resting for, even if it's a quick catnap to recharge the batteries."

He says the meeting revealed that while one state agency is pursuing federal funds to add to safe rest areas, the other can't keep its existing areas open.

"Within the last six weeks there was an announcement of funding for rest areas," says Lopez. "The DOT advised that they were more focused on operating what they have and so they passed it by."

"The Thruway Authority, on the other hand, said that they're aggressively pursuing additional capital improvements, actual building new facilities."

He said the Thruway Authority is seeking some 26 million dollars in federal capital improvement money for safe truck rest areas.

The DOT expects to save $1.5 million dollars over the next year by closing the six rest areas.

"And so I said, jeez, guys, is there any way that DOT could make the application if they're the eligible applicant, and then suballocate those funds to the Thruway Authority to allow the Thruway Authority access to funds that they might not have otherwise."

Lopez also says he's encouraged that both agencies referred to the closures as "temporary."

"We've asked the DOT to give us all of the documentation on the costs, the cost savings that they were looking at, and their reasons for closing each one, and they're open to us discussing alternate ways of keeping the six that were closed, open," Lopez says.

He says he and Seward will digest that information and return to the agencies with their own recommendations.

Finally, he says the agencies agreed to the idea of beginning "a statewide planning process that brings everyone to the table on this issue" going forward. He says one way to accomplish that might be to initiate a special task force to examine new ways of addressing highway safety issues.

Lopez said among the ideas that should be considered is installing solar panels at rest areas to keep the lights on.