Dale-area rest stops to remain open for now

Daniel Vasta/The Herald
Jeremy Steele of London, Kentucky, walks back to his pickup truck at the Nancy Hanks rest area in Dale on Jan. 11.

By CANDY NEAL and LEANN BURKE
news@dcherald.com

DALE — The Nancy Hanks rest areas along Interstate 64 near Dale will remain open for now, but will likely close once the Indiana Department of Transportation improves and expands the rest stops located on the state’s perimeter.

“I had a meeting with INDOT, and they are going to postpone closing them until they have the new ones open,” State Sen. Mark Messmer said Saturday, just prior to the start of a legislative breakfast held at Vincennes University Jasper Campus. According to a Facebook post by State Rep. Stephen Bartels, R-Eckerty, he and State Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, and Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner have also communicated with INDOT about the planned closures.

The Herald reported earlier this month that INDOT planned to close the east- and westbound rest stops near Dale by the end of February due to low usage. According to INDOT, an average of about 1,300 vehicles visit the two sites per day — about 8 percent of the traffic that uses the interstate they serve — and the agency estimates the two facilities would need about $2 million in repairs. Based on those two factors, INDOT earlier decided to close the facilities.

INDOT is planning to expand the interstate rest areas located near the state’s borders. For I-64, those rest stops are located in Posey County, as eastbound drivers enter the state from Illinois, and in Floyd County, for westbound drivers entering the state from Louisville. The Dale-area rest stops are the only I-64 facilities in Indiana serving drivers traveling in either direction.

“They are going to be big multi-acre rest stops, where they can park hundreds of trucks,” Messmer said of the expanded facilities that will serve as gateways to the state. INDOT is looking to spend $20 million to $30 million on each, he added.

With this plan, INDOT plans to close rest areas located on highways further inside the state, like the Nancy Hanks rest areas, which are about the halfway point between Illinois and Kentucky.

“They are closing about 30 rest stops across the state, and [will] only have the ones at the perimeter of the state,” Messmer said. “It isn’t just the Dale sites. They are closing all the sites in the interior of the state.”

He added that the Nancy Hanks stops are “in pretty good shape.”

“But a lot of them are decrepit and an embarrassment because they haven’t been maintained or improved very well,” Messmer said. He was told that many of the rest stops in the state are about 40 years old.

“I suggested, ‘Why don’t you keep [the Nancy Hanks rest stops] open until you get the others done, so that truck drivers have somewhere to go?’” Messmer said, to which INDOT officials agreed.

Messmer isn’t sure how long it will take INDOT to expand and improve the other rest stops, or when the agency will close the 30 interior ones.

He also suggested INDOT officials talk to the public about the agency’s plan.

“I hope they follow through and hold the town hall meeting to explain to people what they are doing,” Messmer told the audience at Saturday’s legislative breakfast, after explaining INDOT’s plan. “If you communicate with people, most people are reasonable. If they know what you’re doing and know what your long-term plan is, they probably understand it and think it’s OK.”

Jason Tiller, INDOT’s Southwest Indiana communications director, declined to comment on the fate of the rest areas.

However, Southern Indiana Resource Solutions posted on its Facebook page Thursday that the organization received word the rest areas would not close.

SIRS supports people with disabilities to help them live independently. According to the Facebook post, the organization and the people it helps have provided janitorial and groundskeeping services at the Nancy Hanks rest stops for 30 years. Jimmy Frobeter, a plant manager with SIRS, said the organization received a letter from INDOT stating the rest areas would not yet close. He declined to share the letter with The Herald.

Messmer reiterated that INDOT will not keep the Nancy Hanks rest stops open indefinitely.

“But until they get other ones open, why would you close the ones you have?” he asked.




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