While traveling on I15 in Central Utah, I stumbled on an intriguing development. The Utah State Department of Transportation (UDOT) had closed Rest Stops along the freeway. In lieue of the traditional rest stops, Utah was advertising private/public rest stop partnerships. One of these rest stops was in Scipio, Utah. I decided to stop and see how a public/private partnership improved upon the traditional rest stop.
I pulled into Scipio to find out that the state had simply named a convenience store in the town a "Rest Stop". A "public/private" partnership means that one convenience store gets the title "Rest Stop." In the typical slap-in-the-face style politics that dominates Utah politics, someone had pushed a single green pinic table into a vacant lot. Travelers in need of rest will follow the blue highway signs to a single exposed table where they can wonder what is going wrong with this nation.
The US Interstate Rest Stop system was set up to address the safety concern of weary travelers driving on highways at high speed. In the past rest stops have been funded by the taxes placed on fuel (placing taxes on fuel has proven to be the most efficient way to collect the tolls needed to maintain roads. There is, after all, a direct relation between the fuel consumed by vehicles and the amount of damage that they do to roads.)
Rest stops are often filled with families letting their children release pent up energy or bleary-eyed truck drivers that would be a danger if they kept on truckin'. Refreshing naps and leg stretching are necessary but non-commercial activities.
The key to the rest stop system is that that rest stops are non-commercial. The stops allow people to conduct the necessary, non-commerical activities of travel (a rest break) in a relatively calm, pleasant environment. It is important that these stops have limited commercial activities. First, you can't really rest in a commercial environment. More importantly, state sponsored facilities should not be competing for revenue that would otherwise go to the large number of businesses that feed off interstate traffic.
The Scipio experiment of declaring one of the convenience stores in town an official Utah State sponsored Rest Stop has had two negative effects: The stop does not provide adequate facilities for drivers a break. People who stop at the convenience store and get another cup of coffee rather than taking a nap are still a danger on the road.
The second big negative of a state sanctioned convenience stores is that state sanctioning gives one convenience store an unfair competitive advantage over other stores. After visiting the state sanctioned convenience store, I decided to drive across the freeway and look at the non-state-sanctioned stores. It had no business and would most likely fail as a direct result of the actions of the Utah Department of Transportation.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a fan of the free market. Utah State's effort to give one convenience store in town official state scantion as a "rest stop" is not free market. The effort destroys competition.
During my trip, the gas prices at this Utah-state-sponsored and preferred convenience store were 14 cents a gallon higher than the gas prices in the towns north and south of Scipio. News reports often site Scipio as having high gas prices.
If this is generally the case, then travelers who are duped by the "Rest Stop" signs on I15 near Scipio and who decide to buy gas at the officially Utah sanctioned convenience store are being ripped off!!!!!!!
FYI: I did some research. Apparently this Public/Private rest stop initiative was set up in 2003. It is possible that Scipio has plans for more than just an unsheltered green table for their public/private rest stop initiative ... though I doubt it. There is a nice public park about a mile off the freeway in Scipio.
In conclusion, if anyone is traveling on I15, I suggest filling up in either Fillmore or Nephi and avoiding Scipio.