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Arizona To Close Parks, Rest Stops To Save Cash

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Arizona To Close Parks, Rest Stops To Save Cash

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Arizona To Close Parks, Rest Stops To Save Cash

Arizona To Close Parks, Rest Stops To Save Cash

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A budget crisis in Arizona has led the state to cut millions out of the state park and transportation budgets. Thirteen parks are scheduled to be shut down by the end of this month; and 13 rest stops already have been closed. The moves have many in Arizona saying the state is shooting itself in the foot — tourism dollars flow into rural Arizona with visits to many of these parks. And visitors, as well as locals, decry the loss of rural restrooms.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We've been hearing for months now about states facing severe budget problems and trying to come up with innovative solutions, and for some, those solutions come down to this: toilets. Arizona had to trim every state program and ended up shutting down 13 of its 18 highway rest stops. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales took us on the road to find out how that's affecting tourists, truckers and residents.

LAUREL MORALES: Tom Robbins(ph) and his wife are on a mini-vacation through the Southwest. They drove to Flagstaff from Omaha, Nebraska. Needing a break, they faced unexpected barricades.

Mr. TOM ROBBINS: When we came through New Mexico into Arizona, the first thing we saw was a rest area closed. I said, well, that's a nice welcome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MORALES: Jokes aside, Robbins says it's not good for tourism.

Mr. ROBBINS: It's discouraging, as a tourist, out-of-town tourist to see all the rest stops closed. We've only found one open.

MORALES: It costs the state $300,000 a year to run, maintain and clean each rest stop. says Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Rod Wigman.

Mr. ROD WIGMAN (Spokesman, Arizona Department of Transportation): You only have so much money. You have to make cuts where you can, but still try to ensure the safety of everybody driving through the state. And that's what we're trying to do.

MORALES: The transportation budget lost more than a half-billion dollars this year when that money was shifted into the state's general fund. As a result, the department closed a dozen field offices, deferred millions of dollars in road construction projects and cut 10 percent of its staff. On top of all these cuts, Arizona has received a record amount of rain and snow this year.

Mr. WIGMAN: Our crews have to stay out longer. We have to buy more deicer. We have more potholes to fill, and we have more problems with rock slides.

MORALES: And Arizona isn't alone. Colorado, Georgia, Vermont and Virginia have also shut down some rest stops to save money. And that has truck drivers upset. For them, it's not just about convenience. It's about safety, being able to pull off the road to rest.

Truckers are lobbying for passage of a federal bill that would provide increased funding for safe parking areas. They're also urging states to find creative funding options, like private-public partnerships. In the meantime, Arizona's giving tourists like Tom Robbins good joke material.

Mr. ROBBINS: If you've got to go, don't go here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MORALES: For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION.

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