Saturday, March 6, 2010

Protests over rest stop closures in Arizona

Read the New York Times coverage, by Jennifer Steinhauer, here. The headline is "Closing of Rest Stops Stirs Anger in Arizona," and the lede follows:
The people of Arizona kept their upper lips stiff when officials mortgaged off the state's executive office tower and a "Daily Show" crew rolled into town to chronicle the transaction in mocking tones. They remained calm as lawmakers pondered privatizing death row.

But then the state took away their toilets and residents began to revolt.

The story features one anecdote about how important the rest stops are to those traveling across state, like a comment from a resident of Pine, Arizona, population 1,931, in northern Gila County, that that there was only one rest stop along the two-and-a-half hour drive between Pine and Phoenix, and "we really needed it." As Steinhauer notes, this is a safety issue for drivers.

Still, the story does not much play up the physical vastness of Arizona as a way to illustrate the practial consequences of closing the rest stops. In terms of land area, Arizona is the sixth largest state in the nation which makes for hours and hours of driving to get from one end of the state to another.

The report does make one reference to the spatial isolation associated with the rest stops. An official from the state Transportation Department, in noting the costs of keeping the rest stops open and in good working order, observes that "Some of those places in the middle of nowhere are like their own little cities." While the analogy to cities seems a bit of a stretch, the "middle of nowhere" language is an appropriate reminder of the enhanced costs associated with maintaining facilities in remote locales.

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