Capital Facilities - Safety Rest Areas
2023 WSDOT safety rest areas by the numbers in 2023
- 87% of Safety Rest Areas in critical condition
- 24 million users annually
- 47 locations statewide
- 20 RV dump stations
- 532 truck parking spaces
Safety Rest Area Strategic Plan guiding program into the future
The Safety Rest Area program completed a new Strategic Plan for Safety Rest Areas in 2023. The strategic plan highlights the challenges the SRA system faces and expands on the work of the previous strategic plan, which was last completed in 2008. The 2023 plan emphasizes that 87% of SRA sites are in critical condition and outlines the significant needs for the program.
The 2023 plan does not call for adding or closing any existing safety rest areas but does provide new program evaluation criteria that will be used for future decision-making. The 2023 Safety Rest Area Strategic Plan calls for $375-$525 million to be spent over the next 15 years to bring these assets into a state of good repair and improve the system to meet the modern needs of freight and the traveling public.
Most safety rest area sites were built between 1967 and 1974, and more than half of rest area buildings will be older than 50 years by 2033. As typical buildings approach the 50-year mark, there is a significant need for either major reinvestment or complete replacement. In the case of safety rest area facilities, these assets have significantly more "wear and tear" due to more utilization than other facilities. Washington State Office of Financial Management has established that dedicated restroom buildings have a depreciated useful life of 36 years.
By 2033, eight (12.5%) of WSDOT's 64 safety rest area restroom buildings will be less than 30 years of age. While restroom buildings provide the most visible signs of age at an SRA, the water, wastewater, and pavement are major considerations for WSDOT. This infrastructure has much higher usage and typically represents 75% of the cost of a safety rest area site.
Significant public outreach and stakeholder engagement were integral in creating the new strategic plan. The plan establishes quantitative evaluation tools that incorporate crash data, utilization, alternative locations, and the importance of each location by customer group type (e.g., passenger vehicles, commercial trucks, RVs) to evaluate the criticality of locations to the operations of a multi-modal transportation system.
WSDOT continues to focus on staff and public safety
As a result of funding challenges and safety concerns, WSDOT made some difficult decisions such as suspending the use of buildings to protect staff. WSDOT ceased full-time use of the 1st Avenue modular crew building in Seattle, moving many crew functions to another site. In addition to the building's condition, other significant reasons for the departure included safety concerns due to property damage, vandalism, and theft.
Safety Rest Areas on I-5 north of Seattle (including Silver Lake, Smokey Point, and Custer SRAs in both directions) are closed for winter 2021 primarily due to staff and budget challenges combined with unsafe environments created by improper use of these public facilities. Temporary fixes like this are prevalent throughout the state and require time and efforts from maintenance staff that would otherwise be used on preventive maintenance.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, WSDOT made improvements to increase the safety of its facilities and reduce virus transmission wherever feasible, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning adjustments, filter replacements, physical barriers, and increased cleaning. For example, WSDOT's Southwest Region replaced all faucets and flushers in their Safety Rest Areas with touchless versions for roughly $50,000. This reduced the maintenance backlog and increased the safety of the facilities for the traveling public. These same replacements will also occur in all of the buildings in WSDOT's Southwest Region in the next few years.
Nearly half of SRA restroom buildings will be more than 50 years old by 2029
The average age of WSDOT safety rest area restroom buildings is 33 years. As of September 2019, 23 restroom buildings (37%) are less than 26 years old, while 29 (46%) are between 26 and 50 years old. The remaining 11 (17%) buildings are over 50 years old. In 10 years, 49% of restroom buildings will be more than 50 years old. Aging buildings produce additional maintenance needs which can result in increased closures to address repairs.
As of September 2019, 13 (21%) of WSDOT safety rest area restroom buildings are in good condition, and 32 (51%) are in fair condition. However, 18 (29%) are in poor condition—meaning they have major deficiencies that will likely impact services.
Safety rest area usage decreases by 2.3% in 2018
WSDOT's network of 47 safety rest areas had 23.8 million visitors in 2018, a 2.3% decrease from 24.4 million in 2017. Costs for operating and maintaining safety rest areas averaged 28 cents per visitor in 2018. Costs ranged from 10 cents per visitor in the busiest rest areas to 80 cents per visitor at more rural sites. Lower-use rest areas are often located on stretches of road that may not have other services available, providing a key benefit and helping keep travelers safe.
Safety rest area use increases in 2017 to 24.4 million visitors
An estimated 24.4 million visitors used WSDOT safety rest areas in 2017, which is about 280,000 (or 1%) more than the 24.1 million estimated visitors in 2016, and the highest number in the past decade. Visitor estimates are generally based on water use. The 47 statewide rest areas provide safe places for travelers to take a break from driving or bicycling. All rest areas provide bathroom facilities and most also have traveler information, picnic tables and pet areas. Some rest areas also offer free coffee through a volunteer program.
While visitor use increased in 2017, WSDOT safety rest areas again met their maintenance goal. WSDOT rest areas continue to score a "B" grade on average. To earn a "B" grade a rest area site must appear clean and have water and sewer systems that are operational.
WSDOT safety rest areas aging, preservation backlog increasing
Forty-one restroom buildings and 17 other buildings at safey rest areas are older than 25 years old. The average age of restroom buildings statewide is 33 years old and the average age of other buildings at safety rest areas statewide is 23 years old. The age of rest areas is a major contributing factor to the maintenance preservation backlog for buildings and the utilities that serve them.
The maintenance preservation backlog for safety rest areas is $40.1 million as of March 2018, an increase of 64% from $24.4 million since it was last assessed in 2014. This increase is due in part to continued aging in the years since 2014, but most of the increase is due to the addition of more site components to a recent condition assessment. Site infrastructure such as recreational vehicle dump stations, lagoons, and sewer and water systems are critical and cost intensive systems that directly impact operation of the facilities and can impact the health of the surrounding environment.