Fauquier Now Staff Journalist
The Virginia Department of Transportation has shelved plans to open a truck driver rest area along westbound Interstate 66 near Markham.
Citing a range of potentially negative effects, area landowners and residents strongly objected to the proposal.
Because of that, VDOT decided to “suspend” the project and to study “other alternatives,” Warrenton Resident Engineer Mark Nesbit wrote in a letter to Fauquier County Board of Supervisors Chairman Chris Granger (Center District).
But, Mr. Nesbit stated in the two-page letter: “This decision should in no way be taken to indicate the Department does not consider the truck parking shortage a serious public safety issue and opening the rest area remains one of the viable solutions to solving the parking shortage.”
Alternatives could include a public-private partnership to create more truck parking spaces elsewhere and a system to provide “accurate real-time information” about places drivers could stop for rest, Mr. Nesbit wrote.
But, if those measures fail to “improve” conditions, VDOT would reconsider the Markham site and other state-owned properties, he wrote.
The proposed truck rest area would provide about 22 parking spaces for tractor-trailers to help address a statewide deficiency, according to VDOT.
But, opponents argued the project would be incompatible with the rural area and would do irreparable environmental, scenic and wildlife damage. They also said VDOT failed to justify the project’s estimated $800,000 cost. The rest area would use about five of the 30 acres the state owns.
The proposal called for 27 light poles, each 40 feet tall, a dumpster, three or four portable toilets, several trash cans and an 8-foot-tall privacy fence along the property adjacent to Belle Meade Road.
Opponents voiced concerns at a VDOT public information meeting in the Marshall Community Center on Aug. 31.
About 100 people attended the meeting; 84 of them provided their names on a sign-in sheet. As of Sept. 10, the department had received 69 comments opposing and 19 comments supporting the project, according to Mr. Nesbit.
“I think VDOT’s made the right call to explore other options,” said Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall), who represents Markham. “We want a solution. I don’t think anybody knows what that solution is at this point.”
“I don’t think the rest area made sense, in light of the issues,” said Thomas D. Peterson, whose family owns about 45 acres near proposed the proposed site. “To the extent there’s a safety issue, it’s not one that links directly to a VDOT facility on I-66.”
VDOT’s decision did not surprise him, said Mr. Peterson, president of the Center for Climate Strategies and a Johns Hopkins University adjunct professor who teaches climate and energy courses.
“They understood this was not adding up,” he said. “We think it’s time to move on.”
The 2015 Virginia Truck Parking Study (at bottom of story) identified the need for more than 500 spaces on the I-66 corridor for truckers during their required safety breaks.
Without a dedicated rest area, truckers park along road shoulders and interstate ramps, which more quickly wears out pavement and causes safety and line-of-sight concerns for other motorists, according to VDOT.
But that report lacks “site-specific” information that would demonstrate whether the proposed Markham truck stop would address such issues, according to the Piedmont Environmental Council.
“It causes some questions as to whether a truck rest area at that location is warranted and would solve whatever problem they were holding up,” said Dan Holmes, director of state policy for the Warrenton-based organization. “If that project were to come back, I would hope that level of information is available.”
VDOT’s decision “certainly doesn’t suspend the need for spaces in the state of Virginia and that area,” said Virginia Trucking Association President P. Dale Bennett.
Truckers need more designated places to stop and rest to ensure their safety and that of other drivers, said Mr. Bennett, who attended the Aug. 31 VDOT meeting at Marshall.
The transportation department’s proposed alternatives hold “promise,” he said.
“We’re committed to working with VDOT and local government to address this serious problem,” Mr. Bennett added.
VDOT in the late 1970s finished site work for a full-service rest area on its Markham property.
The agency constructed turn lanes, an entrance, an exit and a paved parking area.
But, for reasons VDOT officials can’t explain, the state never completed the project, which would have served passenger vehicles and trucks.
Fauquier’s transportation committee on Feb. 27, 2013, unanimously approved a resolution (at bottom of story) endorsing the project, provided VDOT satisfied a number of conditions, including:
• “Downward focused lights” and “minimal signage.”
• Fencing and landscaping to screen the area.
• “Minimal facilities” to “discourage automobile use.”
A member of transportation committee at that time, Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott) voted for the resolution.
The Feb. 27, 2013, Transportation Committee minutes state that former Supervisor Peter Schwartz (Marshall), although not a member of the panel, also backed the project, provided it resembled the Front Royal truck rest area “with context-sensitive features, including lower lighting.”
Mr. Schwartz retired in 2015, after eight years on the board.
The board of supervisors has not considered a resolution to endorse or oppose the project.