The Connecticut DOT is contemplating building over-the-road air rights facilities on Interstate 95 and 395 replacing service plaza areas.
In the state of Illinois, a public-private partnership led to Wilton Partners and ExxonMobil to team up building signing a 25-year lease regarding service plazas on I-294/94, I-90, and I-88.
Access is available from both directions of travel and parking along with fuel stations and car washes are available on either side of the highway with much of the facility actually over the interstate.
The property is owned by the tollway but leased to Wilton Partners and ExxonMobil who subleases the properties and maintains the Oases building.
In contrast, the state of Connecticut owns all of the service plaza buildings and property along I-95 and I-395.
They have a contract with McDonald’s and ExxonMobil until the end of 2008 where the contract could either be renewed or services could be bidded out.
Service Plazas on I-95 featuring McDonald’s and Mobil include Darien, Fairfield, Milford, Branford, and Madison.
I have been to the Madison plaza and it appears they are attempting to create a food court with Italian pizza, cappuccinos, and really good deli sandwiches, a welcome alternative to McDonalds.
Those featuring Mobil and Mobil Mart on I-395 include Montville and Plainfield and on Route 15 include North Haven, Orange, Fairfield, New Canaan, and Greenwich.
I have been to the Montville and Plainfield service areas and they definitely are not welcoming and really only serve those who desperately need gasoline, use a restroom, or possibly windshield washer fluid, an ice scraper, a map, a bottle of soda, or a
bag of chips.
While they sell Krispy Kreme donuts, I do not recommend buying them after 12 p.m. since they receive delivery at about 5 a.m. and they leave the donuts laying in the case all day and night until the new delivery comes in.
A study looking at all rest areas, service plazas, and welcome centers is underway in Connecticut where many believe these facilities are no longer meeting the needs of travelers.
In Illinois, when travelers stop at Oases they will see a building with steel structure, breathtaking window curtain walls, and twice the height of the old service plaza buildings.
Vendors at these Oases areas include: Panda Express, Subway, Famous Familgila Pizzeria, Stonebridge Gyros and Café, Starbucks Coffee, Auntie Anne’s Hand Rolled Soft Pretzels, Tropicana Smoothies, Juices, and More, Mrs. Fields Cookies, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, McDonald’s, Massage In A Minute chairs, Oasis Cellular, Kiddie Coaster, Nickels and Dimes, Inc. featuring prize stations for kids, FotoFantasy, Coleman Distributors, Music Recyclery, The Dog House, PageComm Wireless, Travel Mart, Fifth Third Bank ATM, Illinois Lottery, Mobil I-PASS team, and The Tobacco Farm.
Additionally, all Oases have restrooms, pay phones, and do bright, clean, and attractive buildings resembling mini-malls.
I have not been to Illinois and my observations are based on their website and its photographs.
Many of the restaurants have limited hours but McDonald’s and select other services are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Questions remain whether Connecticut should pursue this path.
Would such development hurt stores and restaurants located near I-95 and I-395 which rely on those taking a break from the road?
It seems these service plazas would tailor more for states which have long expanses without exits or whose exits have no services within a five mile radius of the interchange.
If Connecticut could make money from installing these facilities, it may take some of the burden off the constant increase of gasoline taxes in a state which took out tolls years ago but are contemplating the possibility of reinstating them.
Another possibility Connecticut has is reinvesting money in its service plazas and attracting more vendors for more food choices.
The Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 90, offers a variety of food choices and other services at its service plazas including McDonald’s, Honey Dew Doughnuts, Auntie Anne’s, Ben and Jerry’s, Fresh City, Papa Gino’s, d’Angelo’s, Nescafe, LavAzza, Boston Market, Dunkin’ Donuts, Edy’s Ice Cream, Original Pizza of Boston, Coca Cola, TigerMart, McTreat, Sandella’s, Bank of America ATM’s, izone sunglasses, Exxon/Tigermart Convenience Store, Internet Café, FASTLANE service center, dog walk areas, restrooms, and pay phones.
Service centers on the Mass Pike include: Lee Eastbound, Lee Westbound, Blandford Eastbound, Blandford Westbound, Ludlow Eastbound, Ludlow Westbound, Charlton Eastbound, Charlton Westbound, Westborough Westbound, Framingham Westbound, and Natick Eastbound.
While not all of these choices are at all service centers, there is ample choice at each center and handicapped restrooms as well as family restrooms are at each center.
There are three tourist information services on the turnpike located in three different service centers which include the Charlton Eastbound, Charlton Westbound, and Lee Eastbound.
These visitor centers feature self-service kiosks courtesy of the Mass Lodging Association Travel Reservation Department.
Additionally, the Mass Pike has a Farmer’s Market Program at its service plaza parking lots from mid-May to December allowing farmers to sell their products as long as they do not directly compete with businesses in the service plaza building.
I plan to go up to the Mass Pike in the near future and while I’m there will visit one or two of the service plazas and definitely will eat there and hope their centers are much better than Connecticut’s.
Another difference between Massachusetts and Connecticut is that Massachusetts is looking to remove tolls off their highways while Connecticut is looking to reinstall them.
Tolls have been taken off already between Exit 1 on the New York border and Exit 6 in Springfield and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority voted to have all tolls eliminated west of Route 128, as of December 31, 2007.
This would stand to save commuters a maximum of $7.60, the current cost to go from the east portion of the Pike to the west and $4.60 to go from the west portion of the Pike to the eastern portion.
The elimination is the result of cost-savings and complaints the tolls should have been eliminated years ago when toll money had paid off bonds for the turnpike.
However, tolls would still exist east of Route 128 in eastern Massachusetts.
Legislators in Connecticut are investigating the reimplementation of border tolls on I-95, I-395, Route 15 (Merritt Parkway), I-91, and I-84.
While this would supply some revenue to the state, it could have a net loss for Connecticut if the state would no longer be able to get federal funding for maintenance of roads like it does now and has since tolls were taken out in the late 1980’s.