The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 23, 2013

I-90 travel center is still staffed, but for how long?

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT —  Two employees are still offering travel assistance to visitors at the rest stop/truck weigh scales on Interstate 90 just inside the state line in Conneaut, but how long they stay on the job is in question.

This week the Columbus Dispatch reported the Ohio Department of Transportation is in the process of shutting down the travel information centers that operate within their rest areas in an effort to re-direct revenue to road and bridge projects. Half of the 32 impacted employees have either retired or accepted other ODOT jobs, the paper said. Travel centers are found inside 11 rest areas, mostly near state lines.

The travel center that occupies a room inside Conneaut’s rest area is still operating, Brent Kovacs, ODOT District 4 spokesman, said Tuesday. “They’re still handing out information,” he said.

Kovacs said he knew of no plans to close the travel center.

In October, ODOT initially confirmed a report that the center was closing, only to rescind that statement the next day. City officials were upset with the report, saying the loss of the center would hurt the city’s tourism business.

Mark Winchell, executive director of the Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Tuesday the state’s travel centers are “vitally important to the tourism industry.”

“They are gateways to the state of Ohio,” he said.

Winchell said his office, along with other tourism-related agencies, are in “heavy dialog” with ODOT regarding the future of the centers. “We would like to see a commitment to keep the (Conneaut) center open,” he said.

Eliminating the travel centers will save the state some $2.1 million in payroll and benefits, according to the Columbus Dispatch article. Last year the state announced it would seek proposals from businesses interested in opening restaurants or gas stations at selected rest areas, but no proposals were received.

Last fall, a Massachusetts company, Travelers Marketing, reached an agreement with ODOT to place advertising at rest stops along interstate highways, the newspaper reported. The deal could net the state $13 million over seven years, according to the newspaper.