Truckers win fight to keep Willington rest stations open

Score one for the state’s largest trucking association.

The General Assembly reversed itself in its final hours Wednesday, restoring just under $460,000 to keep two rest stops open on Interstate 84 in Willington – at least for one more year.

The Senate voted 29-7 and the House 141-6 to adopt a measure keeping the facilities – one each off the eastbound and westbound lanes – operating under Department of Transportation supervision. They had been slated to close on July 1.

The Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut, which represents over 900 freight haulers, landscapers, construction firms and other businesses that rely heavily on trucks, said the planned closure represented a safety hazard.

But association president Michael J. Riley said the stops provide a crucial resting place for truckers hauling overnight and in need of a place to sleep. Connecticut needs more than 1,000 additional rest stop parking spaces to accommodate existing truck traffic, he said.

“Here we are as a state promoting truck safety, and then here we go closing truck stops and they have no place to sleep,” said Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee.

Guerrera said Appropriations Committee members recommended the cut because they mistakenly assumed that the stations, which need an estimated $4 million in capital upgrades, weren’t being used because of the poor condition, including a malfunctioning septic system.

The decision to keep the Willington stations open means the state will have to rent portable restrooms until it determines the facilities long-term status.

The legislature also voted to close five other rest stops located in Danbury, Middletown, North Stonington, Southington and Wallingford, effective July 1, 2012.

Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said the panel would re-evaluate the Willington rest stops and study the other planned closures  — during the 2012 regular legislative session.