HARTFORD, CT -- Vending operators in Connecticut scored a victory last week when Gov. Dannel Malloy and the state Legislature scrapped a law that would have closed noncommercial rest stops on three interstate highways. The seven stops, which were opened in the 1960s and ‘70s, provide refreshments through vending machines. They also have bathrooms and travel information, but do not host gas stations or restaurants.
PHOTO: Rest stop saviors Dolores Malloy and Eric Mueller pose for a photo at highway rest area in Willington, CT, that was scheduled to close July 1. Vending machines provide snacks and beverages there.
The state Department of Transportation estimated that closing the rest areas would save $1.3 million a year in staffing and maintenance, and an additional $14 million in capital improvements. The plan was included in the two-year $40.1 billion budget the governor signed into law in early May to close a budget deficit in excess of $3 billion.
Two rest areas off Interstate 84 in Willington were scheduled to close on July 1; five others on Interstates 91 and 95 would have been shuttered next summer.
Connecticut Vending Association legislative director Eric Mueller noted that the budget was voted on and passed, making the closure of the rest stops law. He credited CVA member Bill Miller of Maple Hill Farms (Bloomfield, CT) for bringing the matter to the association's attention and spurring its legislative efforts, since the areas are big stops for operators. The loss of these locations, which also aid Connecticut's Board of Education and Services for the Blind, could have resulted in a loss of jobs for the state's vending industry.
Mueller hailed the trade group's lobbyist, Dolores Malloy (no relation to the governor) of Malloy & Associates, for her role in persuading lawmakers to reverse the measure after just two days of speaking before legislators. The truckers association and the governor's own commissioner of tourism also spoke out against the law, emphasizing that rest is not a luxury on the highway and that fatigued drivers are a hazard to everyone else on the road.
Gov. Malloy and Dolores Malloy discussed the matter, Mueller reported, and the recommendations to keep the stops open came from a DOT subcommittee. "Considering that Malloy & Associates does not represent truckers or tourism leads us to believe that the noise we made mattered," he said.
The rest stops that were due to close in July now have temporary portable toilets in place, suggesting swift action is underway to reverse the law.
Mueller credited Transportation Committee Chairman Tony Guerrera for being the greatest influence behind the last- minute reversal. "Things like this really don't happen, and the chairman's work was truly remarkable," said the CVA legislative director. "This is a very big deal." He asked members to email their words of gratitude to Guerrera.
Rest stop's remaining open is a second political success for Connecticut's operators this year. On Feb. 16, Malloy unveiled a two-year budget plan that maintained the industry's existing tax exemption. | SEE STORY