In addition to the 20 public rest areas currently managed by OTE, the agency has stationed employees at the following locations:
- Interstate 5, Milepost 22, south of Medford: Suncrest rest area (southbound only)
- Interstate 5, Milepost 148, north of Roseburg: Cabin Creek rest area (north and southbound)
- Interstate 5, Milepost 178, south of Springfield: Gettings Creek rest area (north and southbound)
- Interstate 5, Milepost 206, north of Eugene: Oak Grove rest area (north and southbound)
- Interstate 84, Milepost 229, east of Pendleton: Deadman’s Pass rest area (east and westbound)
Under the amendment, OTE will supervise operations at a total of 29 highway safety rest areas—three additional sites more than defined by 2012 legislation. OTE worked with its transportation partners to ensure the original intent under Senate Bill 1591 was fulfilled. Although funding will remain stable through 2015, OTE agreed to accept the additional rest areas from ODOT without increased revenue.
Members of the Oregon Legislature have championed the OTE highway safety rest area model as vital to highway safety and as an incubator to improved economic prosperity. Senators Peter Courtney (D) and Chuck Thomsen (R) have tracked the agency’s progress since 2010 and supported OTE’s initiative for developing safe and clean places for motorists to rejuvenate.
From commercial truckers to families traveling with small children, the state’s motoring public relies on OTE to provide secure and sanitary facilities—a place where travelers use clean restrooms, exercise family pets, grab a cup of free coffee from local volunteers, and resume their journey refreshed.
The OTE model supports ODOT’s and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s mission to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries attributed to driver fatigue.
Research has suggested that 20 percent of all traffic related accidents are caused by fatigue. The cost to society for traffic fatalities and injuries surpasses the budget to operate highway safety rest areas. Public bills amount to over $4.3 million per injury and fatality accident (combined average). OTE spends between $0.14 and $0.43 per rest area visitor (dependent upon location) to operate a well maintained safety-break zone.
As part of the agency’s performance metrics to provide a visible presence at Oregon rest areas, OTE has partnered with Oregon State Police (OSP) and regional law enforcement to mitigate illegal activity and the potential for aggressive behavior to occur on rest area grounds. OTE utilizes public education materials and is developing strategic campaigns (supported by local social services organizations and rest area coalitions) to discourage individuals who may not follow rest area rules and regulations.
Clean and staffed sites
OTE’s rest area model is geared towards the revitalization of an aging statewide system. As part of the agency’s commitment to the Oregon’s highway users, cleanliness is at the top of the list for both OTE and those stopping for a quick break.
When a rest area has no visible attendant or agency presence, issue response time is longer—often with a protracted gap in services. Under the OTE model, rest area specialists wear their uniforms eight hours per day and provide weekly coverage, including weekends. If a restroom is in disarray, or if a septic or electrical system failure occurs after hours, OTE rest area specialists may be contacted via a toll-free public line. Specialists return to the site for emergencies and an assessment of reported situations.
While staff presence raises the bar for rest area maintenance, landscaping and essential supplies, the team’s visibility also assures visitors that if they run into trouble, there is someone present to help.
OTE rest area personnel are selected, in part, for their ability to respond to the daily challenges of acting as Oregon’s “road ambassadors.” Rest area specialists help charge dead batteries, change flat tires, find lost wallets and purses, and even return the occasional left-behind pet or child. They volunteer directions to local restaurants, hotels, golf courses and hiking trails. They provide a warm place for visitors if keys are locked inside a car on a freezing morning, or help snow-stranded motorists chain up. Several times over the last few years, OTE employees have contacted advanced life support responders when a motorist experienced a health emergency. Rest area teams not only improve lives, they help save them.
Connecting the dotted lines
In 2009 the Oregon Jobs and Transportation Act identified highway safety rest areas as community assets. OTE was tapped with developing a public program that would transform existing rest areas from “pee and flee” stops into motorist information hubs—offering high levels of service and helping direct visitors into nearby communities as part of the agency’s mission to help strengthen economic prosperity.
OTE is developing a five year strategic plan with its partners in transportation, public safety, tourism and recreation. The consensus from local government, destination marketing organizations and private business is that OTE has an excellent opportunity to implement a much improved rest area system—one that is easily recognizable by the traveler—and one that encourages visitors to explore local flavor.
As other states look to establish self-sustaining revenue streams to support rest area programs, OTE is leading the charge to employ unique economic development techniques at its rest stops. From streamlined and modern vending machines to technologically advanced travel information structures, the agency will pursue alternative funding sources over the next biennium to support their statewide plan for rest area improvement.