Major upgrades coming to Turnpike, Parkway service areas

The highway rest stop, or as the state prefers, “service areas,” are as much a part of the New Jersey experience as cranberry bogs and toxic waste sites. For generations, the facilities have been providing various levels of comfort – gas, food, bathrooms – to weary travelers. As a first impression of our state, the rest stops serve an important role, and, as such, need an upgrade, said Gov. Chris Christie as he announced a big deal to rehab and replace parts of more than a dozen of the service areas.

“Most of these facilities look old and outdated, and they look old and outdated because they are old and outdated,” he said. “Most of them were constructed back in the 1950s, particularly the ones on the Turnpike. And frankly, for a long time, they’ve needed to be modernized to present day standards, so I’m pleased to announce an agreement between the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, HMSHost and Sunoco that will enhance and improve food and service areas along both the Turnpike and the Parkway.”

And, get this, cost to taxpayers? Zero. The governor says that in exchange for a 25-year extension of their operating contracts, HMSHost and Sunoco will invest a quarter of a billion dollars in capitol improvements over the next two decades to make the service areas cleaner, brighter, tastier and more functional. In all, eight service areas are being totally rebuilt. Six will be remodeled. That’ll include new restaurant buildings in nine spots.

“The facilities undergoing major remodeling will have the front of the buildings removed,” Christie added. “They’re going to create a new, open naturally-lighted dining areas and new restrooms will be constructed so that the remodeled buildings will look and operate similarly to some of the newer buildings you’ve seen on these roadways, like the Grover Cleveland and the Atlantic Plaza rest areas.”

Not all rest stops are created equal, and some accommodations are more spartan than others. At the Vince Lombardi Service Area, which is scheduled to see some major renovations, the reviews are generally pretty good.

“I think they’re very functional — very, very busy,” said one man. “I did notice that the drinking fountains could be cleaned up a little bit, but other than that, they’re fine.”

Others noted the clean bathrooms as a real plus.

The governor says he’s got more announcements about modernization projects coming about. So, as he wraps up his second and final term in office, it’s still too early to start discussing ways to memorialize the contributions of Gov. Christopher J. Christie, right?

Rest stop names are only awarded posthumously, however, so the governor will have to settle for a school, bridge or something like that.