Truckers frustrated with rest stop closures

TANNER MONDOK | AlliedThe Interstate 80 eastbound Pennsylvania welcome center in Shenango Township, just east of the Ohio line, is among the rest areas completely closed throughout Pennsylvania.

A truck driver from Grove City is among many in the industry who are frustrated with this week’s closure of rest stops.

William Tonkin, who drives to Indiana for Estes Express Lines out of West Middlesex, has been hearing from other truckers about the problems they’re facing on the road.

He’s glad that he’s home every night, while others aren’t so lucky.

“They need food and rest areas,” he said on Wednesday.

PennDOT issued a news release earlier in the week saying they were closing all PennDOT rest areas and welcome centers as of Tuesday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced on Wednesday that their agency implemented partial closures of all 17 service plazas along the 552 miles of the turnpike.

That meant no fast food or inside dining was available, and the restrooms were closed. Portable toilets, gas stations and convenience stores were open.

All restaurants in Pennsylvania have stopped dine-in services. Patrons can pick up to-go orders, have it delivered, or use drive-through windows.

That restriction leaves few food options for truckers on the road, Tonkin said.

“You can’t bring a truck to a drive-up window,” he said, adding that restaurants will not serve customers who walk up to a drive-through window.

The rest stop and service plaza closures also meant that the truck drivers had trouble finding somewhere to park when it was time to rest or eat.

“It can get dangerous,” Tonkin said.

If truckers can’t do their jobs properly – that includes rest and food – stores will run out of their stock even faster.

“We keep products flowing through the company,” he said.

His girlfriend Diana Cotterman had tried to reach Gov. Tom Wolf’s office with no luck, though it wasn’t long before the state made a few changes.

PennDOT announced Wednesday afternoon that they would be reopening some of the rest stops for truck parking as of Thursday.

Thirteen out of the 30 rest stops are in “critical locations,” according to the news release.

“Every decision made has been in the interest of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and we are constantly reevaluating our response,” said PennDOT Acting Secretary Yassmin Gramian, P.E. “That said, we also recognize the importance of freight movement and that drivers need access to rest areas.”

Each location has five portable toilets, including an accessible one; they’ll be cleaned once a day. Electronic message signs will alert drivers to opened rest stops.

To prevent further spread of COVID-19, PennDOT does not plan to open any of the indoor facilities at this time due to staff availability to keep facilities clean and properly sanitized.

These locations have reopened for truck parking:

• Interstate 79: Crawford County northbound and southbound; and Allegheny County northbound.

• Interstate 80: Venango, Centre and Montour counties eastbound and westbound.

• Interstate 81: Luzerne and Cumberland counties northbound and southbound.

For more information about PennDOT, visit www.penndot.gov

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced that it would be reopening all 17 service plazas as of Friday – that includes indoor restrooms.

Limited food options are available for take-out only between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., except at the North Midway and Valley Forge plazas, which will sell food around-the-clock.

The commission also reminds motorists that the turnpike is not accepting cash or credit cards at its “ticket system” interchanges. It’s a temporary safety measure to keep travelers moving.

All tolls will be assessed electronically via E-ZPass or the turnpike’s “toll by plate” program. Cash tolls will still be in place on the Mon-Fayette Expressway via the automated payment machines.

Construction has been put on hold to keep people moving, and to limit worker interaction.

For more information about the turnpike, visit PATurnpike.com

More information about COVID-19 in Pennsylvania is available at www.health.pa.gov

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