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Fast food could give Va. fast cash

BY SCOTT SHENK

THE FREE LANCE-STAR

IS IT POSSIBLE that burgers from fast-food joints are harming more than just your heart?

Yes, says a study by researchers at the University of California, Riverside.

Researchers recently told the university publication UCR Today that grease, smoke and other emissions from burger joints pump out more particulate matter (microscopic pollution) than tractor–trailers.

Bill Welch, the principal engineer for the study, told UCR that an “18-wheeler diesel-engine truck would have to drive 143 miles on the freeway to put out the same mass of particles as a single charbroiled hamburger patty.”

Looks like one more reason to avoid fast food joints.

This week, instead of a question, we have a suggestion from a reader who has gone to some lengths in trying to convince transportation officials that there is another way to bring in revenue while also adding services along the Interstate 95 corridor in Virginia.

Bert De Vore of Spotsylvania has sent letters to politicians, businessmen and transportation leaders trying to convince them that commercializing rest areas would be a boon to Virginia.

He’s seen them in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

Maryland has two such locations—Maryland House and Chesapeake House, both of which are going to be renovated.

Both rest areas, which are in the median of I–95, offer plenty more options than Virginia’s rest stops, which have only vending machines.

At Maryland’s commercial rest areas you can get eats from such fast-food places as KFC, Pizza Hut and Wendy’s. You can also gas up at these stops.

Setups like these seem right up Virginia’s alley. Gov. Bob McDonnell has pushed hard for public-private partnerships—i.e., the nearly $1 billion electronically tolled express lanes project on I–95 and the new rest-area vending and sponsorship agreement.

Virginia’s rest-area agreement, which includes signage sponsored by Geico, will bring in $2 million annually.

This year, Maryland signed an agreement with a private firm to renovate and operate its two commercial rest areas, and the state says it will make $400 million annually from the setup.

That’s a big difference in revenue.

But, there is a catch to De Vore’s hope that Virginia will follow in the footsteps of Maryland: federal law.

The feds oversee the interstate system and the U.S. code prohibits commercial establishments along the interstate’s right-of-way.

That’s what the office of U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pointed out in response to De Vore’s inquiry about commercializing Virginia’s rest areas.

What about those commercialized rest areas De Vore mentioned?

They were built along toll roads, according to the transportation agency’s letter to De Vore. Such areas are exempt from the federal code prohibiting commercial areas along the interstate.

When Maryland’s two commercialized rest areas were built, that section of highway was tolled. It no longer carries a toll, but the rest areas were grandfathered in.

De Vore thinks the federal code should be changed. Congress considered doing just that in 1991, but it didn’t happen.

Maybe the new tolled areas of I–95 (north and south of us) could provide an opening for fast-food rest areas in the future.

There could be a downside to adding fast-food joints along the interstate, though: more pollution from cooking all those charbroiled burgers.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

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