Around 17-million people a year make a pit stop at an Iowa rest area and many of them will do so while traveling over the holidays. Steve McMenamin is the rest area administrator with the Iowa Department of Transportation. He says, unlike many other states, Iowa is keeping money in the budget to upgrade roadside facilities.
“We’re not closing rest areas like some states and we are taking a proactive approach here to replacing those buildings,” McMenamin said. “Most of them were built in the 1960s and early 70s and they weren’t designed to accommodate the kind of traffic we have out there today.” There are 40 rest areas around Iowa, all located along the interstates. In recent years, the state has replaced 13 of the facilities. The D.O.T. is wrapping up work on a new rest area in Johnson County and will begin building a new facility along I-80 in western Iowa early next year.
“The oldest one that hasn’t been replaced is in Adair County on the westbound side (of I-80),” McMenamin said. “We’ve done the eastbound side, and now Adair County is the next one that we’ll do next year. That was built in 1965 or ’66.” A rest area along eastbound I-80 near Davenport is also believed to be one of the oldest in the state. McMenamin says last week’s blizzard served as a reminder about the importance of Iowa’s rest areas.
“We’re actually adding backup generators to most of our buildings so, even in severe power outages, there will be heat, functioning rest rooms and vending available,” McMenamin said. Ten of Iowa’s rest areas are now equipped with those generators. Many of the new rest areas include expanded information kiosks and artwork associated with that region of the state. Iowa was one of the first states to install free wireless internet services at all its rest areas. McMenamin says many out-of-state travelers may make just one stop while driving through Iowa, and if it’s at a rest area, it could be the only chance for the state to make a good impression.