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Rest areas get new offerings
VDOT chooses company to run new, upgraded rest areas.

 The I-95 rest area near the Carmel Church exit, like the others, will offer new services under the program.
FILE/ROBERT A. MARTIN/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 8/31/2011

BY SCOTT SHENK

Two years ago, Virginia rest areas were being shuttered.

Now they're getting a makeover, at no cost to the state.

Beginning next week, a new company will take over the job of upgrading the state's 42 rest areas and welcome centers.

There also will be more advertisements displayed at the rest areas.

That's all quite a turnaround from July 2009, when former Gov. Tim Kaine closed 19 rest areas as part of his budget cuts.

Gov. Bob McDonnell had the rest areas reopened in early 2010 and then made a push to support their costs by raising revenues in a public-private partnership.

The governor announced in a release yesterday that the Virginia Department of Transportation awarded a contract to CRH Cater- ing to manage the SAVE (Sponsorship, Advertising and Vending Enhancement) program.

As part of the three-year contract, CRH will pay VDOT approximately $2 million annually for a "guaranteed rights fee" to run the program.

VDOT also will receive annual revenue sharing payments from vending, sponsorship and advertising revenues generated at the rest stops.

"As part of this innovative program, we see great opportunity to offset rest stop costs now and into the future," McDonnell said in the release. "Partnering with the private sector will enable us to expand and improve the services that we offer visitors while saving taxpayer dollars."

The transportation department could do pretty well in the deal.

The state's rest stops and welcome centers get a lot of foot traffic--about 90,000 visitors daily and 33 million annually, according to Sean Connaughton, the secretary of transportation.

Federal law prohibits complete privatization of the state's rest areas, Connaughton said.

The SAVE program, he said, will "enable marketers to effectively and cost-efficiently promote their goods and services while saving the taxpayers money."

CRH, which already handles vending operations at 30 Virginia rest areas, will partner will three other companies to implement the changes at the rest areas.

Highway Information Media, an Ashland-based company that specializes in "traveler-focused marketing" and is managing a pilot project with interactive touch-screen kiosks at Virginia's four welcome centers.

StrongPoint Capital, an ATM provider based in Woodstock.

Travelers Marketing, a Wellesley, Mass., company that provides strategic marketing and will manage the sponsorship component of the project.

There will be quite a few changes at the rest areas, possibly including such things as electronic advertising banners.

The upgraded vending options will offer more than the requisite snacks and drinks.

Travelers might be able to buy such things as shampoo, toothpaste and soap or merchandise like clothes, electronics and souvenirs.

And there's even a chance that new vending machines will sell lottery tickets.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436
Email: sshenk@freelancestar.com