Pennsylvania on Tuesday became the first state to close its 35 interstate highway rest areas, as part of its state of emergency response to the COVID-19 coronavirus. PennDOT shuttered not only the rest area bathroom facilities and buildings but also the parking areas. The state's highways see heavy truck traffic, and the closures drew a swift outcry from long-haul truckers' organizations. American Trucking Association (ATA) president Chris Spear took his objections directly to President Trump, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and other top federal officials. Local politicians voiced their grievances to the governor. And, of course, there were complaints on social media. The state has now partially relented.
The buildings and indoor toilets will remain closed, but several parking areas along I-81, I-80, and I-79 will reopen, allowing tractor-trailer drivers to a safe place to park their rigs overnight. Those locations each will also will have five port-a-potties, which PennDOT says will be cleaned once a day. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is reportedly operating along similarly lines, with port-a-potties rather than indoor toilet facilities, although the Turnpike's convenience stores remain open. Commercial truck stops remain open.
Trucking is widely considered to be an essential service, and the need to get supplies to stores after panic buying has cleaned out shelves is an obvious one. Despite the need to scale back on workers staffing such facilities, so far no other state has enacted a state-wide closure of highway rest areas.