Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

July 26, 2013

Restaurants at rest stops? State puts out feelers

LANSING (AP) — Michigan is interested in possibly commercializing a couple of rest areas along a major highway in the northern part of the state.

The state Department of Transportation put feelers out Thursday to companies looking to form public-private partnerships involving rest stops, freeway lighting, bridge construction and timber management.

The two rest areas proposed for possible deals are near Higgins and Houghton lakes along U.S. 127 south of Grayling, a popular route for tourists. Ideas to improve the rest stops — one of which will be closed otherwise — could include opening restaurants and buying advertising space and naming rights, the state said. If successful, Michigan may look to make money from rest stops on U.S. 131 in west Michigan and U.S. 23 in the southeastern part of the state.

Under federal law, Michigan can’t commercialize rest areas along federal interstates.

“This is an information-gathering stage, the first step to starting a conversation about what’s possible in financing and building infrastructure,” state Transportation director Kirk Steudle said in a statement. “We’re looking for innovations that will save taxpayer dollars, improve service and efficiency and enhance public safety.”

The state asked for letters of interest by mid-August from the private sector. If there’s interest, the state would issue requests for proposals.

The projects identified for potential private involvement could let the state maintain assets that otherwise might continue declining because of a lack of funding, said Jeff Cranson, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation. The two rest areas are in poor condition, not too far from other rest stops and not used as much, he said.

The state also is gauging companies’ interest in controlling highway lighting, doing some bridge work and thinning out forests along four state and federal freeways.

Lighting privatization proposals could cover either all 18,400 lights on state highways — excluding rest stops and some other facilities — or freeway lighting in metropolitan Detroit. Tunnel lighting just along I-696 in Oakland County and under Detroit’s Cobo Center is another option.

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