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Making highway rest stops safer and pay their own way along Interstate 5
Wyatt column rest stop
The Enoch Christoffersen Rest Area 2.3 miles south of Turlock on Highway 99, named after a longtime mayor of the city.

Twenty-eight miles south of Lathrop where vehicle speeds start pushing into the 80s and the CHP picks off the low hanging fruit of clueless folks who jet past those who are already topping the speed limit by 10 mph sits the West Wesley Rest Area.

It is just south of the wishbone where Interstate 580 veers off toward the Altamont Pass and Interstate 5 continues north.

This is where I earned an easy $20 some 34 years ago.

I was helping friends Jack and Gail Vaughn move from Roseville to Ventura. Before we left Roseville, Jack — who couldn't believe on the last five trips we had taken together — we managed to come across someone who knew me.

That happened in San Francisco, Disneyland, Fairfield, San Diego, and even Chicago.

Before climbing into the U-Haul in Roseville, Jack said he’d bet me $20 we wouldn’t come across anyone I knew this time given we were moving and were essentially going from Point “A” to Point “B” and then they were going to put me on a plane back to Sacramento.

I’ll never forget the look on Jack’s face or how quickly he reached into his wallet to pull out a $20 bill after we pulled into the rest stop.

That’s because the second I stepped out of the truck we heard a “hi, Dennis” from Harold and Shirley Lawhead from Lincoln.

The State of California can make money almost as easily as I did from the West Westley Rest Area that — in some folks’ books — defines the middle of nowhere.

There are less than 60 freeway/highway rest stops in California.

That includes a second one in the 209 — the Enoch Christoffersen Rest Area 2.3 miles south of Turlock on Highway 99, named after a longtime mayor of the city.

A proposed infrastructure plan in2018 that ended up dying in Congress called for allowing rest stops to be commercialized to provide a revenue stream for cash strapped state transportation departments such as Caltrans.

Federal law that went into effect in 1960 limits rest stops along interstate highways to vending machines as well as the distribution of brochures and maps when it comes to commercial activity.

It was done to prevent local restaurants along interstate routes from losing business.

Check out the West Wesley Rest Area sometime. It’s busy with people taking a break from driving to stretch, use the facilities, catch some shut eye, or use the RV sanitation facility.

It's a pleasant place in the day although it can be a tad menacing at night.

Rest stops cost money to maintain.

Why not lease space using a base monthly cost with a percentage of gross sales to restaurants and/or convenience stores?

Given there are 15 rest areas along the Interstate 5 corridor in California why not make some of the rest stops pay for themselves as well as help maintain and upgrade areas along less traveled and more isolated corridors such as Highway 395

It costs money to have Caltrans crews or contractors keep restrooms clean, litter picked up, trash dumped, pay for electricity for lighting, and to maintain pavement.

Given where rest stops are located they’d make ideal locations for electric vehicle charging stations with easy on and off freeway access. Money from leasing to a fast food restaurant or a convenience store could fund such installations at all state rest stops and not just ones that are heavily traveled.

In fact, from the viewpoint of state’s electric vehicle initiative it is one of the best ways to develop a hassle free and easy accessible charging experience for electric car owners who can grab a cup of coffee, a snack or fast food and stretch their legs to recharge both their batteries and those of their vehicle.

At the same time, a 24-7 presence at rest areas would make using them much less menacing especially at night.

It is highly doubtful and local businesses would be damaged economically.

Getting on and off the freeway for typical freeway driver in Patterson, Lathrop, or anywhere else on I-5 is not going to be as quick and hassle free as a rest area.

That's because there is no cross traffic and there wouldn't be a ton of options. It’s just off and on the freeway to hit the restroom and — if you wish — grab a snack or drink.

Such a plan not only would assure rest stops are properly funded and maintained but it would free up transportation money for other uses.

Granted, not all rest areas including on I-5 should have commercial components. But if they do the state could require low-key architecture that blends into the area around the rest stop.

They can also ban traditional highway signage soaring 100 feet up into the sky by restricting any highway ad driving to the placement of the restaurant and/or convenience store logo on the highway signs that advise a rest areas is up ahead.

Without dipping into tax dollars, the state could operate and maintain rest areas, strategically expand charging stations to make traveling distance more feasible for electric car owners, and enhance public safety.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at