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NYS Thruway rest areas to get overhaul in $450 million project

By Eric Reinhardt

Date:

The toll booth at the Electronics Parkway entrance to the New York State Thruway. Motorists along the Thruway will soon see renovation work at rest-stop travel plazas along Interstate 90 in a two-phase project beginning in 2021. (Eric Reinhardt/CNYBJ)

Drivers along Interstate 90 in the next few years will gradually see a new look at rest stops and travel plazas along the highway. 

The New York State Thruway Authority on May 12 announced the selection of a contractor to redevelop the 27 service areas located on the nearly 600-mile toll highway. 

The Authority picked Empire State Thruway Partners from bids submitted following the state’s request for proposals (RFP). 

Empire State Thruway Partners submitted a $450 million investment plan to rebuild 23 of the 27 service-area restaurant buildings and provide “significant” renovations and upgrades to the remaining four rest stops. 

The contract with Empire State Thruway Partners includes a 33-year term, with two phases of construction. The service areas were originally built in the 1950s, with the last significant redevelopment taking place in the 1990s.

Under the plan, the renovations will be funded by the developer — instead of state taxpayers and Thruway drivers — in exchange for almost all of the revenue from the plazas, minus rent tied to sales figures.

Empire State Thruway Partners proposed to invest 

$300 million in capital funds, with an additional $104 million in renewal and replacement funds, and to provide the Authority 0.84 [percent] of gross sales in rent with a guaranteed minimum of $51.4 million in rent over the life of the contract. Empire projected $85.4 million in gross sales-based rent to the Authority over the life of the contract, per a document that the Thruway Authority provided to CNYBJ on May 12.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the initiative to “reimagine” the Thruway service areas in his 2018 State of the State address.

“The upgrades planned with this redevelopment project include innovative, modern
initiatives to improve the customer experience for the tens of thousands of travelers who use the service areas every day,” Matthew Driscoll, executive director of the Thruway Authority, said in a statement. Driscoll is a former mayor of Syracuse.

Phase one includes 16 service areas with staged reconstruction expected to begin in 2021. Phase two includes 11 service areas with renovations expected to begin in January 2023. To “ensure continuity of services” to Thruway customers during construction, no two consecutive service areas in the same direction of travel will be closed for renovations at the same time, the Authority said.

Amenities and services were established in the RFP using feedback from a Thruway-administered customer survey in 2018, which gathered information from customers to gain insight into “consumer preferences, best practices, and appropriate business models.”

Proposal details

A rendering of how the reimagined NYS Thruway rest stops will look following a $450 million project to redevelop the 27 service areas located on the nearly 600-mile toll highway. (RENDERING CREDIT: NYS THRUWAY AUTHORITY)

Empire State Thruway Partners proposed various levels of service and building sizes to accommodate travelers’ needs and desires. 

Crews will configure most buildings to provide entrances from both the parking lot and gas stations.

Additional amenities include outside seating with access to Taste NY farm markets, picnic areas, play areas, and pet-walking areas with comfort stations; business centers available at designated service areas; “technology-forward” building-maintenance systems to monitor facilities, alert maintenance to issues, and schedule predictive maintenance; and enhanced services such as call-ahead ordering, kiosks, and drive-thru service at most locations.

Empire State Thruway Partners also “detailed a commitment to promoting” the I Love NY program and local tourism and showcasing Taste NY products in its proposal through self-branded convenience stores and gift shops.

Additional services proposed at select locations include proposed virtual welcome and tourism centers, virtual Thruway assistant and travel counselors, food trucks and other seasonal offerings, enclosed climate-controlled pet areas, and a private area for nursing mothers.

The proposal also calls for pursuit of LEED Silver rating principles at all locations, and other environmental initiatives. LEED is short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. 

The plan also includes solar arrays integrated into roofing systems and parking areas; rainwater harvesting, retention ponds, irrigation-free landscaping and use of “non-invasive landscaping that is drought resistant and requires low maintenance,” the Authority said. 

The environmental initiatives also call for reduced light pollution and glare through building materials, design, and light-fixture selection and placement.

The plan also includes an increase of 150 parking spaces for commercial truck parking at service areas systemwide. The planned new amenities for commercial truckers include shower and laundry facilities and fitness centers.

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