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Interstate Rest Area Commercialization

When Congress created the Interstate Highway System in 1956, community leaders feared that local businesses, jobs, and tax bases would shrink as truckers and other motorists bypassed their cities and towns. As a result, Congress prohibited development on interstate rights of way.  Section 111 of Title 23 United States Code prohibits interstate rest areas built after January 1, 1960 from offering commercial services such as food and fuel.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to raise state revenue, many state governments have supported the idea of commercializing rest areas and contracting fueling and other services to private vendors. While advocates for commercialization claim that such services will benefit the public, the reality is that rest area commercialization would close as many as half of the nearby interchange-based businesses (according to a 2003 study by the University of Maryland).

The ban on the commercialization of rest areas has resulted in a strong, competitive economic environment with over 60,000 businesses developing along U.S. interstate highways. Prohibiting publicly-run rest areas from competing with private sector businesses has been an undeniable success, resulting in industries that provide valuable services such as gas stations, travel plazas, truck stops, restaurants, and hotels. More than 97,000 businesses are located within a quarter-mile of the interstate, and they employ 2.2 million people. 

Interstate-based gasoline retailers will be unable to compete with commercialized rest areas, which are conveniently located on the highway right-of-way, and would create a de facto monopoly in favor of businesses operated out of rest areas. Interstate rest area commercialization would destroy the property tax base of local governments (for a short-term gain in state revenue) and put many retailers out of business.  Rest area commercialization would result in an unfair competitive environment for privately-operated retailers and would destroy a successful economic business model that has proven beneficial for consumers and retailers.

PMAA is a member of the Rest Area Commercialization Coalition that has been meeting with lawmakers to oppose the commercialization of rest areas.


Federal motor fuel excise taxes have been the dedicated source of funding for the Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) since 1956. The current federal excise tax for gasoline is 18.4 cents-per-gallon and 24.4 cents-per-gallon on diesel fuel.  

Revenue has been down in recent years because vehicle fleets have become more fuel efficient – hence – less taxable gallons.  Motor fuel excise taxes have not been increased since 1993. However, some lawmakers have floated the idea of increasing the motor fuel excise tax to help pay for the upcoming infrastructure plan. Other infrastructure funding options include tolling, vehicle miles travel (VMT) – a user fee based on miles traveled – and public-private partnerships.

PMAA has been unable to reach a consensus on whether it supports or opposes a federal motor fuels excise tax increase.  Each PMAA state association can decide the best course of action regarding a federal motor fuels excise tax increase. However, all vehicle owners and operators, no matter what fuel type they choose, including electric vehicles, should pay their fair share for road maintenance and repair.

“THE ASK” Committees: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation; House Transportation and Infrastructure

  • Urge Congress to oppose any attempt to commercialize rest areas.
  • Urge Congress to ensure that all vehicle owners and operators, no matter what fuel type they choose, should pay their fair share for road maintenance and repair.  

PMAA STAFF CONTACTS:  Sherri Stone,  Bradley Norman