The Norman Transcript

July 31, 2013

Oklahoma considers what to do with old rest stops

The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma transportation officials are considering what to do with six nearly half-century-old rest stops that a spokeswoman says need upgrades to meet the requirements of modern motorists.

“It’s definitely time for us to decide what’s going to happen to them,” Terri Angier, state Transportation Department spokeswoman, told The Oklahoman. “They are outdated. We are painfully aware.”

Oklahoma has 11 rest stops, with all but one along either Interstate 40 or Interstate 35. The one is along U.S. Highway 69 in southern Oklahoma.

— AP

The rest stops are right off the roadway. Motorists can make quick stops or they can stay and eat on the picnic tables or take naps in their vehicles.

“When the interstate system was built, there was nothing in those areas,” Angier said. “Over the last 40 years, development has come. Now every 10 to 15 miles, if not more frequently, there are travel stops that have come along as a result of the highway system being there.”

During the past 20 years, the Transportation Department, working with the state Tourism and Recreation Department, has shifted to developing information centers. Five of the rest stops have become information centers, with modern buildings and restrooms that include changing tables for people traveling with infants or toddlers.

A stumbling block to upgrading the remaining rest stops has been money.

“It’s been very difficult for us to go spend $15 million, for example, on a facility when we keep complaining about how bad our funding has been for the roads and bridges,” Angier said. “At some point we have to decide ... how we can justify the funds to redo them.”

Richard Coley, at a rest stop near Pauls Valley on I-35 south of Oklahoma City, said the rest stops remind him of summer vacation trips he took with his family as a youngster more than 40 years ago.

“It was a lot of fun back then,” said Coley, 53, of Norman. “I like the old scenic-style stuff, nostalgia-like things.”

As private development has grown, the Transportation Department has closed three rest stops in the past two decades: one 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.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, which manages the state’s 10 turnpikes, has moved away from small rest stops built 40 to 50 years ago to modern travel service plazas.

“Those (rest stops) 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.”