True to our name, we hit the road this summer to experience firsthand what it’s like for our rest area and information center users. Our initial road trip along Interstate 84 coincided with the Oregon Travel Information Council’s quarterly meeting in Ontario, Oregon. The second leg of our journey had us visiting our rest area locations on Interstate 5 and OTE Information Kiosks in Klamath Falls and across to the Southern Oregon Coast.
In anticipation of strategic planning, CEO Kyle Walker is working with the OTE leadership team to reorganize several key agency functions and address the aging information kiosk infrastructure.
Our road trip also allowed us to visit every rest area and information structure along the major corridors, record their condition, and begin to formulate plans for the motorist information hubs of the future. Travel information hubs will be more than just static panels and maps—we are after all, experienced motoring ambassadors who can help tell the story about what’s around the next curve in the road. And, we need an integrated and uniform delivery system that jibes with a digital and wired populace.
It is clear that in order to serve Oregon travelers and visitors, we need to partner with our associate agencies to find a solution. Only through collaboration will we move from the perception of “an OK place to stop and use the restrooms” to a statewide system of excellence that will draw motorist in and keep moving them to experience nearby sights and sounds.
What we did on the road
- We met with our shared rest area community coalitions and advisory groups, who in 2009, helped craft our first managed rest area model. Members from the Boardman and Baker City communities, Medford, Ashland, and Klamath Falls, plus volunteers from OTE’s highway safety rest area Free Coffee Program, advised us on how we can improve directing rest area users into nearby communities. The time spent with our community advisors was invaluable and is helping to shape our upcoming strategic planning sessions.
- We spent “face-time” with our rest area ambassadors; the men and women on the front lines who help travelers find their way to the next gas station, extend an extra hand with a jump start, and ensure that rest area grounds and restroom facilities are clean and safe.
We saw vast improvements made in each stop as well as remaining work plans. From sustainable product sourcing to plumbing and regional landscaping, the work performed this year has been nothing short of amazing. Our field and road-trip staff also participated in several public service interviews—and their “road ranger” stories included eradicating rattlesnakes at Memaloose to returning children left behind by a harried mom at Boardman.
The rest area visitor-counts are staggering. Some of the numbers below support data that rest areas can, and do, drive millions of people on our state highway system and have the potential to be the radius for driving millions of travel dollars into the nearby communities:
- French Prairie (formerly Baldock), on I-5 near Wilsonville, logged 407, 328 visitors this August. That’s equal to almost the entire population of Portland Metro stopping to use the facilities and enjoy the pristine grounds.
- Santiam, on I-5 north of Albany, hosted over 313, 353 visitors in August. As the Ducks and Beavers games heat up in Corvallis and Eugene this fall, the total will no doubt rise to an even higher number.
- Boardman, on I-84, welcomed 183,618 people to its facilities in the last month. All were offered free coffee during prime hours, and all found travel information from program volunteers and the information kiosk.
The cost to serve a single visitor at all three sample locations was a mere 14 cents per person in July 2013.
Combining and leveraging our resources
What becomes readily apparent is the tremendous opportunity we possess to help strengthen our state’s economic prosperity through our real-time, on-the-ground travel services. From our locations, we:
- Help stranded visitors who may have minor mechanical problems get back on the road to their vacations.
- Administer and hold prime assets that help local businesses attract new and return customers through our information centers and rest areas.
- Leverage opportunities to partner with our sister agencies to fulfill a much needed support system in our state’s travel and transportation industry.
Before the first snow flurries hit the mountain passes, we hope to finish our tours of facilities along the North Coast and Central Oregon. These important road trip inspections and meetings will help guide us through future goal setting and potential pilot programs.
What comes next
If you have suggestions about motorist information center kiosks, we would like to hear your point of view. It’s easy for us to get excited about possibilities, but we operate under state and federal rules and regulations within highway right-of-ways. We know the kiosks need serious help, but if you would like to be a part of the larger discussion, your input is welcome.
Think about these questions: If you could design a statewide motorist information system from the ground up, what would it look like? What can be accomplished via private and public partnerships?
We’re keenly aware that these information hubs represent our great state and its diverse communities to millions of visitors every year. Often, these locations are the first places in our state that motorists obtain travel information. Do we want outdated “telephone booth” posters representing our state’s most precious commodities, or is there a way for us to deliver an expanded range of attractions and essential travel services via electronic portals or mobile apps?
The answers to our questions about improved travel information services will no doubt be found in the upcoming strategic planning sessions, but if you are eager to weigh in, feel free to email your comments to us at email@example.com. Your email will be personally acknowledged.