A coalition of groups representing cities and communities across America, tens of thousands of off-highway foodservice businesses including truck stops and travel centers, and blind merchants that manage vending machines at Interstate rest areas, urged the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to help keep off-highway food establishments open for truck drivers.

Off-highway restaurants and foodservice operations are struggling to remain open, with sales generally down 50 percent or more. If these businesses are unable to remain open, it will exacerbate the trucking community’s concerns with respect to convenient access to food options as they heroically deliver essential supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coalition acknowledged FHWA’s recent decision to temporarily not enforce the longstanding ban on commercial activities at Interstate rest areas with respect to food trucks. FHWA has said this decision will only remain in place during the Presidentially declared emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The coalition did not ask the FHWA to withdraw the non-enforcement notice, but did urge that food trucks operate at rest areas where there are no other nearby options for truck drivers.

“Although some state rest areas have closed during the pandemic, private trucktop and travel plazas remain open and are committed to serving truck drivers,” said Lisa Mullings, President and CEO of NATSO. “If there are places where truck drivers are finding it difficult to find something to eat, we don’t oppose food trucks at rest areas. This is a national emergency, and we need to explore unconventional solutions. But if food trucks at a rest area hurt local businesses that are already struggling to remain open, professional drivers ultimately will have even more difficulty finding places to eat. They will have fewer food choices if these businesses close, and they will struggle to find showers and parking, too.”

“Blind merchants, many of whose sole source of income is through vending machines at rest areas, are struggling to remain afloat,” said Nicholas Gacos, President, National Association of Blind Merchants. “We strongly urge federal, state, and local government officials to keep this in mind as they consider the advisability of permitting food trucks to compete with us at Interstate rest areas.”

The coalition members said that they would like to be collaborative partners with FHWA so that off-highway businesses can remain open during the pandemic and continue serving millions of truck drivers every week. The best way to ensure this can occur, the coalition wrote, is to help those businesses survive and stay open during this pandemic.

The coalition includes the National Restaurant Association, the International Franchise Association, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Convenience Stores, and the National Federation of the Blind, the National Automatic Merchandising Association; National Franchisee Association; National Retail Federation; Petroleum Marketers Association of America; and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.

Read the letter to FHWA here.