Private Rest Area: A Good Opportunity for…?

Vermont has been saving pennies by closing Interstate highway rest areas, and for years the state has not provided sufficient funds to properly upgrade and maintain those that have remained. So pennywise and pounds foolish, it seems the state must be searching for schemes to keep rest areas available. One scheme apparently not under consideration is, you know actual proper funding of the facilities.

Now if you owned a large industrial park near an interstate and were offered a state backed monopoly business deal at the nearest highway exit, would you jump at the deal? How about if the state guaranteed no competition for many miles north and south?

From VPR News:  So the Shumlin Administration has backed a plan by developer Jesse “Sam” Sammis to build a rest area and visitors’ center off I-89 Exit 4 in Randolph. Said Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding […]”If it goes forward it seems like a good opportunity for the Vermont taxpayer, the traveling public and for Vermont producers to have a place to display their products,” he said.


“Sam” Sammis, Chairman of the New England Land Company of Greenwich CT and Randolph VT, owns projects in Vermont including The Green Mountain Stock Farm and Green Mountain Office and Industrial Park.

“I said it’s a good idea, but how am I going to make this thing work financially? I’ve got to pay to build the buildings, put the infrastructure in,” he said. Sammis said he plans to use a site next door to showcase Vermont products. He would charge companies rent to display their goods.

How well would this possibly work financially? How on earth could an exclusive State of Vermont deal at a heavily trafficked interstate highway interchange benefit financially someone that owns the surrounding 170-acre office/industrial park?

State studies from an earlier 2010 effort at this project by Sammis showed that by closing the existing rest areas combined with installing Vermont promtional signage on the Interstate, 500,000 travelers would “be put on the doorstep” of a commercialized area annually.

Getting the centers off the Interstates, [Department of Buildings and General Services Commissioner Gerald Myers] added, would make it possible to have retail sales on-site, something prohibited on federally-owned land.

No mention has been made of any remuneration to the state for its guarantee of non-competition or its promotional signs directing weary, rest-room-needy travelers to the privately owned commercial venture at Exit 4.

It’s beginning to sound like our Granite State neighbors to the East, where they sell liquor at the rest areas, just in case there aren’t enough drunk drivers on the road. But then again, selling liquor is exclusively a state prerogative over there.

So there you go, Sammis is the first to potentially have a state-blessed but otherwise unregulated monopoly with zero accountability. You want one? The key is on the hook. It’s around back. (Psst, don’t tell WalMart!)

7 thoughts on “Private Rest Area: A Good Opportunity for…?

  1. We are rapidly “giving away” development rights on the near perimeters of our interstate, thus impacting the future capacity  of the highway system to adapt to the changing demands of evolving transportation systems.  Why not release to private control even those traditional bastions of free public convenience, highway rest stops?  The arrangement couldn’t POSSIBLY be exploited for disproportionate private gain and taxpayer loss!

    The Governor continues to bend over backwards to serve the Republican myth that developers are all saints who will always place the public good above their own personal gain, and will bring unlimited prosperity if we just trust them to do the right thing.

  2. Permit me to play devil’s advocate with a couple of points:

    1) Anybody can build a rest area on land that is near the interstate.  There isn’t a monopoly at all here.  What does provide an advantage is the state’s willingness to locate signs on the interstate.  It is not at all clear, though, that this agreement is exclusive.

    2) No retail is allowed on federally owned land?  This assumes that the former rest areas were on federally owned land.  Is that true?  Assuming it is, doesn’t this mean that we could build a much better rest area if it is done in conjunction with private investment?  Those vehicular traffic numbers are high for a reason.  It’s because this rest area can offer much more of what the people actually want.  Not everyone wants just a rest room, vending machine Hershey bar, and a brochure.  

    3) This rest area could showcase local Vermont products which would be a great thing for our local economy.  If the state is going to put signs on the interstate it should insist that a certain percentage of retail space be dedicated to local products and small business.  

    4) Retail sales will make the rest area profitable to the state.  The employees at the rest area will be paying taxes – not paid by taxes.  This will free up state revenue for some good causes.

    5) Having just one building, rather than one on each side of the interstate, will be more efficient and will have a smaller carbon footprint.  It will allow double the travelers to access the same rest area.

    This could be done well.  Very well.  You get into trouble when you have a knee jerk reaction.  If proper conditions are in place, this could be a model that Vermont could be proud of.  A revenue positive showcase of what is best about Vermont and is responsible to the environment.  

  3. just have a rest area that didnt smell like urine and was a quick ‘get off and on’ for the traveler.   The state formerly paid local residents dirt wages with benefits and such, but in the days of Douglas needing more “message monitors” at 80 grand each, the little guy got replaced by community volunteers.   too bad for us.  

    Next thing you know the bathroom doors will have those little DIME slots to get in.   Commercialism is not the answer to everything.  Promoting Vermont products works pretty well at the RT 4 Gateway from NY state.  We are a tourist state,  getting people INTO Vermont should be a goal.   One stop shopping at a rest area?   Way too much like Wallyworld…   Bad Idea Shumlin.

  4. the amount of real estate Mr. Sammis owns in Randolph beyond the exits. Three Stallion Inn, Stock Farm, the Depot, and substantial chunks of the downtown. A real opportunity to turn Randolph into Pottersville.

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