By LAUREN GENTILE
Capital News Service
LANSING — The Department of Transportation plans to keep open 76 of its 81 rest areas, and says most of the closures are for safety reasons.
Five rest areas are shutdown until April.
They are the St. Ignace rest area on southbound I-75; Ludington rest area on northbound US-31; Topinabee rest area on northbound I-75; Hebron rest area on southbound I-75; and Hart rest area on southbound US-31.
James Lake, MDOT communications representative, said, “Three of the rest areas were closed because of safety concerns dealing with ice and steep inclines or declines on ramps to enter or exit, and the third has too many stairs that could become quite slick.”
Lake said most rest areas are on flat terrain.
“Instead of putting anyone at risk to slip off the road or even hit someone else, it is better that we just keep them closed for the 17 weeks.”
As for the other two, “We feel that there is a lack of travel to them during the winter,” he said.
Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said other rest areas are never more than 60 miles away, and drivers can use other exits.
“Motorists, commercial drivers and tourists all rely on our network of rest areas year-round for the convenience and safety they provide,” Steudle said. “That is why we keep as many of them open in the winter as possible.”
Matt Friday, executive director of the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, said the seasonal closures could help local businesses.
“This could force people to exit and frequent businesses in the area with sales.”
Mindy Sands, executive director of the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau, said closing the local rest area wouldn’t be detrimental to the city.
“They are trying to help keep travelers safe. When plowing, their main concern is highways and heavily traveled roads, not rest areas,” she said. “Therefore this can drive traffic into our restaurants and stores that we would not normally get if the rest area was open.”
Lake said the closures were not budget-driven, but there are some savings with the closures.
“Between the plowing, electricity, heat and cleaning expenses. MDOT saves roughly $150,000 each year on these closures.”
By LAUREN GENTILE