A Roadside Distraction from the Destination

As the holiday travel season begins, Becky Krystal reminisces on rest stops encountered along family road trips and observes that "stops are evolving from small, flypaper-plastered restrooms into airy, high-tech travel plazas and welcome centers."

2 minute read

November 20, 2012, 8:00 AM PST

By Jessica Hsu


On Interstate 25 south of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a $16 million welcome center consists of exhibits representing the state including a re-creation of a dinosaur dig site and a replica of Butch Cassidy's jail cell. "The Wyoming welcome center and other 21st century highway rest stops have come a long way since their rustic predecessors," writes Krystal. The first facility apparently came to existence in the late 1920s when an engineer built picnic tables to give families a safe place to stop and rest, and the picnic areas evolved into the roadside parks of the 1940's and '50s to the utilitarian structures of the 1960's and '70s. Many of those structures are now worn down, and public-private partnerships are working on rebuilding them. For example, the 48-year-old Maryland House and the nearby 36-year-old Chesapeake House in Maryland will be torn down and reopened with gas stations and food vendors.

"The right to offer such commercial outlets is the exception rather than the rule," says Krystal. From the early years of the interstate system, the Federal Highway Administration enforced a commercial ban "to prevent monopolies for services and to ensure that travelers didn't feel pressured to buy things." However, rest stops that don't offer commercial services have pursued other options like enhanced vending machines and information kiosks in Virginia, farmers markets on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, themed centers in Texas and Missouri, and free WiFi in Maryland, Iowa and North Dakota. Many of these new facilities are also eco-friendly with LEED-certification and a geothermal pump system in Virginia; solar panels in California, Wyoming, and Oregon; wind turbines in Missouri; and green roofs at rest stops throughout the country.

"The new generation of features and amenities can sound too good to be true, given the economic difficulties many states have encountered over the past few years," admits Krystal. States have reduced service at or even shut down rest areas in the past few years, but "rest areas aren't on the verge of extinction - yet, anyway." Rest areas are "now an established part of American travel," said Joanna Dowling, a historian who created www.restareahistory.org, and "a very valuable commodity," said Lon Anderson, the managing director of public and government relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic who helped organize opposition to the closings.

Friday, November 16, 2012 in The Washington Post

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Ornate, tan stone capitol building with a gold dome roof and low-rise city buildings in the background.

States Are Banning Guaranteed Income Programs

Four states now have laws in place that prevent cities and counties from creating or continuing guaranteed income programs, and several more have tried or are trying.

May 23, 2024 - Bloomberg CityLab

View of downtown Dallas, Texas skyline with skyscrapers against twilight sky.

Dallas Hopes to Boost Economy With TV and Film Tax Breaks

The Dallas city council voted unanimously to request a designation from the state that would allow the city to offer sales and use tax exemptions for redevelopment of TV and film production facilities.

May 27 - The Dallas Morning News

Close-up of mobile phone with Airbnb and VRBO app icons.

Proposed Bill Would Outlaw Nearly Half of Cleveland's Airbnbs

The proposed new ordinance aims to help combat the Cleveland's housing crunch and eliminate nuisance complaints related to short-term rental properties.

May 27 - Cleveland Scene

White and peach Florida state capitol building with palm trees in front in Tallahassee, Florida.

Florida Rolls Back Renewable Energy Goals

A new state law eliminates language calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and makes it easier to build natural gas pipelines.

May 27 - News Service of Florida

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.