Chambers County Safety Rest Areas featured

Kyrie O’Connor of the The Houston Chronicle wrote an article last week on the TxDOT safety rest areas across the state.  The new rest areas in Chambers County were the featured facilities.  If you have not stopped at one, either westbound or eastbound on I-10, you need to add that to your itinerary.  Not only is it a great place to refresh, it has a play area for kiddies, several picnic areas for lunching, informative historical signage, and planted in natural vegetation for the betterment of the birds and butterflies.  The level of thought that went in to the rest areas, from  conceptual design to the surroundings, makes it a source of pride for Texas.  You can read her article here.

TxDOT’s homey rest areas lure weary drivers off the highways
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Photo credit: Michael Paulsen Restrooms at the Chambers County safety rest area near Hankamer reflect the location. Cheryl McDaniel makes sure it stays spotless.
By Kyrie O’Connor │ January 23, 2013
If you’ve taken a highway trip recently in Texas, you’ve probably had this experience: You stopped at a state rest area and discovered, to your surprise, that it was both pretty and educational.
Who knew?
But when government gets something right, it should be cheered on.
Of the 78 rest areas in the state, 40 have been made in the new style, along with 12 travel information centers.
If you want to talk to folks who get pretty excited about rest areas, try Andy Keith, the Texas Department of Transportation director of engineering support with the maintenance division, and Veronica Beyer, the media relations director.
“We kind of do things a little different,” says Keith. “Texas leads the nation in having rest areas that fit into the vernacular of the area.”
What that means is that the rest stop you visit in, say, Chambers County will be very different in look and feel from the one you stop at near Huntsville. It’s important to reflect local communities’ color. “It’s more or less their front door,” Keith says.
Here’s an example: A few years ago, TxDOT was looking at a “significant number” of fatigue-related accidents on Interstate 10 between Beaumont and Houston. It was time for a rest stop.
The TxDOT folks met with local officials in Chambers County and found a historic piece of land on either side of the interstate. Then, with the help of surrounding towns, they designed white clapboard-style facilities with not only perks such as picnic pavilions, vending machines, trails and a playground, but also exhibits reflecting local history.
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Photo credit: Michael Paulsen TxDOT constructed white clapboard-style buildings at the Chambers County safety rest area an hour east of Houston.
“The community loves it,” Keith says. The rest stops are so charming they’ve hosted weddings.
“It’s not because we like building fancy stuff,” says Keith. “We want to get people out of their funk when driving.” TxDot saves some money by having its own team do the design work.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” says Beyer. “We’ll do whatever we can.” You see, these are called Safety Rest Areas because drowsy drivers are actually encouraged to take a break and even sleep in their cars rather than stay on the road. An inviting-looking spot is much more likely to do that.
Back in the late ’60s, Keith says, cookie-cutter rest areas were put up all over the country. Soon, they were overrun with big trucks. The drivers most likely to drive drowsy, guys from 18 to 24, were hardly going to stop at places jammed with 18-wheelers.
The new model appears to be working. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of fatigue-related fatalities dropped from 282 to 209. Injuries were down 20.4 percent and total crashes down nearly 11 percent.
The good will engendered has to be real, too. In tiny Hedley, in Donley County, TxDOT even solicited suggestions from the school students. Hedley’s history was as a main rail spur, so with local help, the rest area was constructed to resemble a railroad hamlet.
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Photo credit: Michael Paulsen The Chambers County Safety Rest Area, 1-hour east of Houston, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, near Hankamer.
You may well have seen the twin rest stops on Interstate 45 near Huntsville, with their colonnaded fronts built to take advantage of the natural setting. Inside each, you’ll find an enormous “tree” (its “leaves” are really lovely) with history, nature and industry exhibits surrounding it.
Definitely check out the southbound safety rest area, which not only features an exhibit on “The Walls,” which is what locals call the state prison, but has its own pretty little lake.
But the work continues with some urgency. “Texas has more fatigue-related fatalities than any other state,” Keith says. “There are a lot of real lonesome highways.”
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