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Plan calls for Iowa to close some highway rest areas

By MASON DOCKTER

An AP Exchange story

SIOUX CITY — All but one of the Interstate 29 public rest areas between Sioux City and Omaha could close, under an Iowa Department of Transportation plan that seeks to increase truck parking along the state’s interstate highways.

Statewide, the IDOT proposes to close eight of its 38 full-service rest areas, which include restrooms, parking and often picnic areas, as early as 2028. As part of the plan, the stretch of interstate running between Sioux City and Omaha would be left with only one full-service rest stop, near Onawa.

The DOT also plans to close 10 parking-only rest stops, including three between Sioux City and Omaha, while expanding overall truck parking at rest stops by 30 percent, according to the Sioux City Journal.

Targeted for closure between Sioux City and Omaha are the northbound and southbound rest areas south of Sergeant Bluff, northbound and southbound rest stops near Missouri Valley, the northbound parking-only area near Salix and the northbound and southbound parking-only stops near Mondamin, according to an IDOT report.

The eastbound and westbound rest areas at Loveland, which is part of the I-880 corridor near I-29, also are scheduled to close.

The closure of the rest areas as soon as 2028 coincides with the end of their serviceable lives (most of the rest areas are approaching 40 to 50 years old). Each year, the IDOT lays out its construction projects for that year; rest area projects, including closures, could be included in these plans.

“What we do is, we’re looking at the ages of those rest areas and taking them off the system as they’re going to be in need of serious upgrade,” IDOT spokeswoman Andrea Henry said.

The plan will be reviewed by the state Transportation Commission.

“They do have the ability to tweak this plan as it goes into implementation,” Henry said of the commission.

All the options for the aging facilities are costly — closing a rest area costs an estimated $800,000, while replacing a stop could cost $4 million to $5 million.

Truck-parking only sites, which have less infrastructure, are less expensive, costing around $400,000 to close or $1.5 million to $2.5 million to replace.

The IDOT is proposing to add 247 truck parking spots throughout the state.

In 2012, the Iowa DOT launched a multi-year, multi-phase plan for the state’s public rest areas, with several studies and rounds of public input. The public signaled a resounding support for more truck parking.

“We got a lot of feedback on the need for increased truck parking,” Henry said.

The concept of a public rest area along the roadway dates back to the 1950s, when brand-new highways and interstates were being constructed along vast stretches of the U.S., some in sparsely populated sections with few modern gas stations, convenience stores and truck stops.