Closed rest stops angers tourists, truckers

Flagstaff, AZ – Many states are dealing with crippling budget problems this year, but in Arizona its come down to this - toilets. Arizona has the largest budget gap in the nation, percentage wise, and they've had to trim every state program, lay off staff, close state parks and even13 of Arizona's 18 highway rest stops. That last one has tourists, truckers, and rural Arizonans complaining. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales reports.

Tom Robbins and his wife are on a mini vacation through the southwest. They drove to Flagstaff from Omaha, Nebraska. Needing a break, they faced unexpected barricades.

ROBBINS: When we came through New Mexico into Arizona the first thing we saw was Rest Area Closed.' I said, well that's a nice welcome.' (belly laughs)

Jokes aside Robbins says it's not good for tourism.

ROBBINS: It's discouraging as a tourist out of town tourist to see all the rest stops closed. We've only found one open.

It costs the state 300-thousand dollars a year to run, maintain and clean each rest stop says Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Rod Wigman.

ROBBINS: You only have so much money you have to make cuts where you can but still try to ensure the safety of everybody driving through the state. And that's what we're trying to do.

The transportation budget lost more than a half billion dollars this year when that money was shifted into the state's general fund. As a result the department closed a dozen field offices, deferred millions of dollars in road construction projects and cut 10 percent of its staff.

On top of all these cuts Arizona has received a record amount of rain and snow this year.

WIGMAN: Our crews have to stay out longer. We have to buy more deicer we have more potholes to fill and we have more problems with rockslides.

And Arizona isn't alone. Colorado, Georgia, Vermont and Virginia have also shut down some rest stops to save money.

And that has truck drivers upset. For them it's not just about convenience, it's about safety. Being able to pull off the road to rest.

So alongside the American Automobile Association, truckers are lobbying for passage of a federal bill that would provide increased funding for safe parking areas. They're also urging states to find creative funding options like private-public partnerships.

In the meantime Arizona's giving tourists like Tom Robbins good joke material.

ROBBINS: If you gotta go don't go here! (laughs)

There's always comic relief if no other kind.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales.