Three protest MoDOT's plan for Fruitland rest areas

Friday, February 4, 2011
From left, Jonathan Williams, Austin Tharp and Kenny Williams stand along Kingshighway near the Osage Centre in Cape Girardeau to display signs protesting the Missouri Department of Transportation's plans to convert the Fruitland rest areas to truck parking. "MoDOT is out of touch with the taxpayers," Kenny Williams said. MoDOT held a public hearing Thursday at the Osage Centre to discuss the plans. (Kristin Eberts)

A small group of protesters voiced their displeasure Thursday over the Missouri Department of Transportation's plan to demolish the Fruitland rest areas on Interstate 55 and convert the space to commercial truck parking.

One of the three protesters outside MoDOT's public hearing, Kenny Williams of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., said he has spoken with officials and told them the public needs the rest areas.

"They won't listen to us. They just suggest that we use the bathrooms at private facilities," Williams said. "Those can be so filthy. You're better off going out behind a tree."

During the protest, truck driver Rick Hendrix of Cape Girardeau stopped to show support for Williams. Hendrix said even though he has been driving the roads for 18 years, he doesn't like the trend of converting rest areas to commercial truck parking.

Under federal law, he said, truck drivers are required to take a 10-hour break for every 11 hours they drive. With that much time spent off the road, truckers need more than a parking lot and an outhouse-style restroom, he said. While there are truck stops, he said, those businesses often charge for the long-term parking.

Hendrix also said he doesn't think the new commercial parking lots provide as much truck parking as the former rest areas. He cited the recent conversion of a rest area in Steele, Mo.

"It's real small. There's maybe a dozen spots. It doesn't seem as much as it was before," he said. "It's ridiculous."

MoDOT project manager Eric Krapf said despite the protesters, the majority of people he has spoken with have been in favor of or indifferent to the plan. He said last week MoDOT officials traveled along Interstate 55 talking to businesses, and he has also received phone calls and e-mails of support.

Krapf said he didn't discount anything Williams or others were saying, but MoDOT can't be swayed by the opinions of a few people. MoDOT has cited the safety concerns of truck drivers parking on interstate shoulders and economics as the major reasons to demolish the rest areas.

He said he hopes to make a decision regarding the fate of the rest areas sometime this spring and still welcomes public comments.

If MoDOT decides to convert the areas, the project could be completed in a matter of months. Krapf said MoDOT hopes to add at least 20 parking spots in Fruitland.

More than 30 people attended the hearing, but according to sign-in sheets, most came to discuss MoDOT's summer bridge replacement program and its resulting road closures. Field engineer Andy Meyer said people asked about specific dates and available detours. Motorists were concerned about the inconvenience, he said, but understanding.

To contact MoDOT or learn more about the rest area conversion and bridge program, visit www.modot.org/southeast or call 888-275-6638.

cbartholomew@semissourian.com

243-8600

Pertinent address:

1625 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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