Greater Greater Washington

Adventure! Romance! Highway rest stops?

Am I crazy to actually like big highway rest stops?

Maryland's newest one is scheduled to open along I-95 next week, following a complete reconstruction. And somehow, despite the fact that it's merely a collection of fast food, dirty restrooms, and convenience marts, I think there will be just a touch of romance to the place.


The newly rebuilt Maryland House rest stop. Photo by MDTA.

Something about all waystations appeals to me. I know they're mundane and often uncomfortable places, but all of them, from airports to train depots to I-95 travel plazas, somehow tickle my sense of fantasy.

I think it's because waystations are the gathering places of travel, where humanity comes together and rests before setting off on adventure. Rest stops may not be exotic themselves, but they're where exotic stories begin. Somehow, with hundreds of traveling partners bustling around me, being in a waystation makes travel feel like a quest.

Or maybe I've just got an overactive imagination. Does anyone else feel this way?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for Arlington County, but his blog posts represent only his own personal views. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives car-free in Washington. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post

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And somehow, despite the fact that it's merely a collection of fast food, dirty restrooms, and convenience marts, I think there will be just a touch of romance to the place.
I have never been a fan of highway rest stops but I have found them generally pretty clean, if very well used.

*Perhaps my years spend living abroad have changed my standards for what I expect out of public restrooms.

by Richard on Jan 16, 2014 2:09 pm • linkreport

I just can't get excited about this one since they removed the Roy Rogers

by Dave Murphy on Jan 16, 2014 2:09 pm • linkreport

I like the contrast in experiences... those working there and those moving thru.

Mark Twain in 'Roughing It' goes into a lot of fascinating detail about the rest stops used during the westward expansion of the US.

by duncan on Jan 16, 2014 2:11 pm • linkreport

Compare the Maryland House to the rest-stops on US-301 and I-70. Why haven't they at least re-opened the bathrooms.

I think I love the rest stops as a holdover from childhood, when I finally got to get out of the car and have something tasty or play with automatic toilets after spending many hours in a car with relatively little to do.

by JimT on Jan 16, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

You may have an overactive imagination, because I certainly do and I feel the same way, and have ever since I was a child and aware of what was going on around me. We also drove quite a bit I was a kid. Philly to Chicago, DC and Outer Banks at least once a year each and I couldn't and still can't read in a moving vehicle witout getting seriously motion sick. So I had a *lot* of time to ponder rest stops. (Usually to the soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Bob Dylan on cassette).

I think it's something about the idea that we're all in the same physical time and place but we're all on different journeys or something. This family is driving home from Disney, this guy's off to visit mom in Tenessee, I'm headed back to college in Masassusetts, there's a group of tourists going solo for whom this is a legitimate "cultural experience" and are taking pictures of the McDonalds and most of us are just trying to get out of the bathroom in one piece. Some are at the beginning of the trip, others at the end. Some are doing a quick-hop between Philly and New York, others on on the tail end of a move from Alaska and yet we're all just...here. For 5 minutes together. And this same configuration of people will never, ever be in the same place all at one ever again. Late nights are particularly interesting and I always wonder who are you people and why are you here at 1am, even though I'm there too.

Overly romantic? Yes. Borderline insane? In the eye of the beholder. But cool? I think so.

by Catherine on Jan 16, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

@Dave Murphy

The first thing I asked when I heard that Maryland House was being torn down is if Roy Rogers would stay. But at least we'll always have the one in Burtonsville (exit 33 on I-95 for those future road trips).

by dan reed! on Jan 16, 2014 2:19 pm • linkreport

+1 million to Catherine.

by JDC on Jan 16, 2014 2:28 pm • linkreport

Haha thanks JDC.

And a quick aside...All the wonky spelling up there is a combination of legitimate typos and my ambivalence toward correctly spelling words longer than 3 syllables. I heavily rely on spell check, and forgot to run it on that comment. Oops :)

by Catherine on Jan 16, 2014 2:44 pm • linkreport

I love this! On the way down I95 after Christmas, we were Geocaching at the Delaware rest stop and that place is so much nicer than it used to be. I can't wait to see the new Maryland rest stops. I also think every rest stop should have a Geocache.

by Abigail Zenner on Jan 16, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport

I thought the goal was to ban cars?

/yes I'm kidding. I like them too.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

What is it they say? Something like, "the journey IS the destination," I believe. :-)

A shame there won't be Roy Rogers. Will the Starbucks be 24 hours, like in the old building? (Which, by the way, I really liked. Traffic flow to the restrooms was never ideal, and I understand the need to modernize, but did they really have to start from scratch?)

by Rich 'n Alexandria on Jan 16, 2014 2:53 pm • linkreport

+1 on both Dave Murphy and Dan Reed. I scoured the release and got a disappointment.

Rest Stops tend to harken to an earlier era of auto transportation to me, but I still find them rather neat.

by A. P. on Jan 16, 2014 2:53 pm • linkreport

World's greatest rest stop - http://www.tamarackwv.com/

by Sunny Florida Avenue on Jan 16, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

I think that you are forgetting South of the Border ... http://www.thesouthoftheborder.com/ ... not just a rest stop but also a reference point for a decent portion of I-95!

by Thad on Jan 16, 2014 3:39 pm • linkreport

This post is a trick to draw out the car types - ha, ha!

Sometimes when I am waiting for the better half, I over hear conversations at the help desk of certain rest stops. Kind of quaint to hear someone asking for directions old school style, or looking at the hand out brochures.

by Jay Roberts on Jan 16, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

Photo by Maryland MTA.

Photo by Maryland MTA Maryland Transportation Authority

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA for short) runs the state's toll roads (including the ICC) and toll crossings (except the privately-owned White's Ferry and the Oldtown toll bridge).

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) runs the Baltimore transit system, plus MARC rail and MTA 200-, 900- and 600-series Flyer express bus service to the metro D.C. area.

by C P Zilliacus on Jan 16, 2014 3:51 pm • linkreport

I think it's because waystations are the gathering places of travel, where humanity comes together and rests before setting off on adventure. Rest stops may not be exotic themselves, but they're where exotic stories begin. Somehow, with hundreds of traveling partners bustling around me, being in a waystation makes travel feel like a quest.

Or maybe I've just got an overactive imagination. Does anyone else feel this way?

Well stated.

Been stopping at Maryland House since it opened in the 1963.

The old Maryland House was worn-out, and when the MDTA put its two service plazas in the median of the JFK Highway (as that part of I-95 in Maryland and Delaware has been known since shortly after the events of November 22, 1963) on the block for a recompete, a new (to the Northeast) service plaza operator by the name of AreasUSA won the business, replacing longtime operator HostHMS. The fast food brands were all changed last year when AreasUSA took over the Chesapeake House and closed Maryland House for reconstruction.

I will miss Roy Rogers at Maryland House, but as Dan correctly points out above, there's a very nice new one off of Md. 198 just west of U.S. 29 in Montgomery County (and about 2.8 miles west of I-95) for those in need of a Triggerburger fix. And I am not aware of any toll road service plaza in the I-95 corridor that has a Wendy's, which offers at least some healthier fast food alternatives.

by C P Zilliacus on Jan 16, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

Ok I'll say it. I'd rather be on the train :)

by BTA on Jan 16, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

Highway rest stops are one of the few places left where people of all races and classes mingle.

by interguru on Jan 16, 2014 5:40 pm • linkreport

^ interguru +1

I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one, Dan.

I only have bad memories of rest stops as a child, almost entirely composed of PA Turnpike commission stops on I-76 across the state. They were hot, VERY dirty, and always had the worst food. Most of them have been rebuilt or are being rebuilt since 2005ish. PA also has state-maintained rest stops along non-tolled interstates and federal highways that are pretty gross (thinking of some on I-81) - some don't even have hot food/drink - only vending machines and bathrooms.

Since I've driven myself, I guess I don't stop at rest stops too often anymore. The one on I-95 in Delaware is pretty nice though. Bright and airy and generally clean, it doesn't make you think "oh god get me back to my car" like some other stops do.

by Nick on Jan 16, 2014 7:36 pm • linkreport

Looks good, if a little traditional (the new Chesapeake House looks more contemporary). It should provide renewed competition for the relatively new rest stop in Delaware, which is currently my favorite rest stop on the entire Northeast stretch of I-95. Good to see the return of Phillips!

Now if only we didn't have to pump our own gas like in NJ... :-P

by King Terrapin on Jan 16, 2014 7:54 pm • linkreport

I'm sure it's as overpriced as the one in Delaware. Ohio has been doing a nice job of redoing their's on the Turnpike, Pennsylvania, not so much.

by Rich on Jan 16, 2014 8:15 pm • linkreport

I second several others. I will miss the Roy's too.

Closer in, there is a new Roy's about to open on Rockville Pike just south of Viers Mill and opposite Marlo.

Glad to see Phillips there.

by Frank IBC on Jan 16, 2014 8:27 pm • linkreport

If the Tripper Bus stopped at Sandy Hook, I'd have no reason to drive I-95 North at all anymore. :)

by Frank IBC on Jan 16, 2014 8:35 pm • linkreport

PA also has state-maintained rest stops along non-tolled interstates and federal highways that are pretty gross (thinking of some on I-81) - some don't even have hot food/drink - only vending machines and bathrooms.

Most (all of the 48?) states have rest areas along "free" interstate highways and some non-interstates, but state governments are forbidden by federal law from building new service plazas in the style of Maryland House and Chesapeake House and others, like the Delaware Welcome Center and the numerous service plazas along the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine and Ohio Turnpikes, the New York State Thruway and other toll roads. Connecticut has service plazas along most of its section of I-95 because it was formerly a toll road (the Connecticut Turnpike), and even though it was detolled in the 1980's, the service plazas have remained.

by C P Zilliacus on Jan 16, 2014 10:24 pm • linkreport

Baltimore Sun: Maryland House set to open by midnight Thursday

The new $30 million Maryland House Travel Plaza along I-95 near Aberdeen will officially open to the public by midnight Thursday, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority and plaza manager Areas USA.

Around 6 p.m., last-minute details were being taken care of, such as placing signs and moving construction barrels, Cheryl Sparks of the Maryland Transportation Authority said Thursday evening. The new plaza could open earlier than midnight, depending when those details are finished, she said.

With the Maryland House opening, the Chesapeake House Travel Plaza on I-95 in Cecil County will close for reconstruction sometime Friday morning, Sparks said. Highway signs will notify motorists of the changes.

by C P Zilliacus on Jan 16, 2014 10:51 pm • linkreport

I totally echo Dan's post and Catherine's comment - there's something really magical about spending a bit of time in a place of transience. This American Life did a great show titled Rest Stop that pretty much captures that feeling: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/388/rest-stop

by watchmesoar on Jan 16, 2014 11:10 pm • linkreport

The prior Maryland House was a replica of colonial architecture, and looked like it would have been at home in Annapolis. I am pleased the new one echoes those lines, but I am sorry they did not retain the giant mural of people and scenes from Maryland history. The state has saved the murals, but they are not on display anywhere.

BTW, kudos to the nameless bureaucrats or politicians who gave us what I think is the most clever names for the rest stops - Maryland House, Delaware House, and Chesapeake House in between. T

by David on Jan 17, 2014 6:35 am • linkreport

Readers of this will probably enjoy these photos:

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/arts-and-lifestyle/2013/06/disappearing-american-original-roadside-rest-area/5783/

by dcmike on Jan 17, 2014 8:20 am • linkreport

I guess, in my case, it was moreso the road itself than the rest stops that got me into "all things roads". Perhaps because, growing up mostly in Minnesota, I didn't really have an experience with these travel plazas until I was stationed on the East Coast.

by Froggie on Jan 17, 2014 8:50 am • linkreport

They don't always have to be dirty... the Delaware rest stop on 95 has been kept mostly very clean since it opened after renovations, and the new family restrooms are a huge asset when we travel with our little ones. I think Dan's on to something w/ rest stops having a certain allure. On just about all of my trips between NY and college at Maryland years ago, my Dad and I kept the same routine of dinner at Sbarros and to see if we could keep the stop to 15 minutes or less. You find tradition and memories where you can.

by jbakerman on Jan 17, 2014 8:53 am • linkreport

I'm driving up to NJ this weekend and I'm disappointed I'll be missing the reopening! I like rest stops too; I always use the opportunity to splurge on something I wouldn't normally buy, like Burger King fries or a fancy coffee drink. It's a small pleasure to look forward to during long drives.

The one thing I really hate about rest stops are the bathrooms with the long line of hand drivers all whirring at once. They're one of the worst migraine triggers! But I've figured out where the single-stall bathrooms are tucked away, or sometimes I'll use the one at the gas station area.

by Caroline on Jan 17, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

I've also been intrigued by rest stops since I first saw the oases that crossed over the Illinois Tollways (back in the 60's when they were run by Howard Johnson). They had an Art Deco architecture and you could look out the windows and watch the traffic pass below you.

by Steve K on Jan 20, 2014 3:34 am • linkreport

Places that are 90% toilet, 10% food aren't appetizing to me.

The food is awful and the prices are double those at interchanges.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 20, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport

Places that are 90% toilet, 10% food aren't appetizing to me.

Some friends and I checked out the Maryland House yesterday.

The new Maryland House has nice brand-new toilets, and I liked the food concepts - a Wendy's, Nathan's, Currito Burrito, Jerry's and a few more. The Currito Burito, which I had never heard of before, is pretty good.

The food is awful and the prices are double those at interchanges.

Because Maryland's JFK highway is not a "closed" (ticket) toll road, unlike the New Jersey Turnpike and most of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there is absolutely no impediment to exiting and stopping at one of the off-highway places in Cecil or Harford Counties.

by C P Zilliacus on Jan 20, 2014 1:26 pm • linkreport

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