FHWA Lifts Unnecessary Regulation Barring Food Trucks from Vending at Rest Stops | Citizens Against Government Waste

FHWA Lifts Unnecessary Regulation Barring Food Trucks from Vending at Rest Stops

The WasteWatcher

The on-going COVID-19 pandemic presents essential workers with new challenges every day.  Commercial truck drivers, who are an indispensable part of the U.S. supply chain, have encountered numerous hurdles searching for hot meals on the road.  Truck stops have reduced their vendors’ operating hours, and drive-through windows are not designed to service large cargo freighters.  This leaves truckers with few dining options.  To address this issue, state and federal officials lifted existing restrictions on commerce at highway rest stops to keep truckers satiated and cargo flowing down American highways.

On April 3, 2020, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) decided to use the discretion allowed under the federal-aid highway program statute that bars commercial activity at federally funded rest areas and “refrain from taking any remedial action” if states believed that food trucks would provide necessary succor for truckers.

Following the FHWA’s decision, the governors of Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and West Virginia issued Executive Orders to allow food truck operators to obtain permits to service highway rest areas.  These permits are issued by the state Departments of Transportation (DOT) and will remain valid until governors suspend their executive orders.

Allowing states to open federal rest stops to commercial vendors has been necessary to keep commerce flowing in the midst of the pandemic.  the permits have furnished out of work food truck operators with a new market for their products.  Until the FHWA lifted the restrictions, these operators were surviving off of small private catering gigs and neighborhood gatherings.  While a few food truck operators are seeing higher returns, there are many other trucks that have seen a large decline in their revenues.

Allowing food trucks to service highway rest areas provides more opportunities for food trucks to find steady business and provides the trucking industry with hot meals while transporting goods across the country that keep the nation’s economy moving forward. Keeping the food trucks on the road keeps the operator and their staff employed, decreasing the burden on states’ strained unemployment programs.  The taxpayers will ultimately benefit from the reduced cyclical deficit.

These measures are only temporary.  The FWHA’s April 3 notice mandates that states must terminate the food truck permits once the Emergency Declaration for the coronavirus pandemic ends.  While Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) laudably extended his state’s food truck licensing program on June 15, 2020, after Gov. Brad Little (R-Idaho) eased restrictions on dine-in restaurants, the Idaho Department of Transportation suspended all food truck permits on June 12, 2020. 

The economic well-being generated by the program should encourage lawmakers to repeal the ban on commercial activity at federally funded rest stops. This would provide food truck operators with a new business outlet and give truckers and motorists an opportunity to sample local fare as they pass through cities and towns across the country.  With more Americans planning to hit the road this summer, the time to consider lifting this arbitrary restriction has never been better.

--Trevor Lewis