The 27 service areas along the New York State Thruway are about to get a major facelift.
A $450 million proposal from Empire State Thruway Partners has been approved by the Thruway Authority. Empire State Thruway Partners, led by the British-based investment firm John Laing Group, will rebuild 23 of the 27 service plazas and upgrade the other four facilities — Malden, Ontario, Pattersonville and Sloatsburg, according to the Thruway Authority.
The redevelopment of the service areas will be privately funded. No taxpayer or Thruway toll payer funding will be used.
There will be two phases of construction. Sixteen rest stops — 12 that are currently operated by HMS Host and four operated by Delaware North — will be rebuilt or renovated beginning in 2021. The remaining 11 service areas, which are operated by McDonald's, will be part of the second phase of the project that commences in January 2023. Consecutive service areas in the same direction of travel won't be closed for construction to ensure that amenities remain available to Thruway motorists.
The reconstruction or renovation of the service areas will cost nearly $300 million. The 33-year contract with Empire State Thruway Partners also includes $103 million in upgrades later in the term.
Empire State Thruway Partners will operate the restaurants and services at the travel plazas. The group will pay 0.84% of gross sales to cover rent for the facilities. Based on projections, the Thruway Authority will receive $85.3 million in rent during the life of the contract.
Before the contract is finalized, it must be approved by state Attorney General Letitia James and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. Empire State Thruway Partners and the Thruway Authority could terminate the deal if the consortium can't secure financing.
It will be the first time since the 1990s that any major improvements have been made to the service areas, which includes the Port Byron plaza along Interstate 90 eastbound that passes through Cayuga County. The service areas were first built in the 1950s.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the redevelopment of the Thruway service areas in his 2018 State of the State address. Later that year, a request for proposals was issued by the Thruway Authority.
Empire State Thruway Partners' proposal received the highest score. The consortium plans to offer new food and services, including food trucks and seasonal offerings, call-ahead ordering, drive-thrus, kiosks and virtual welcome and tourism centers.
Enclosed areas for pets and private areas for nursing mothers will be available at "select locations," according to the Thruway Authority. For commercial truckers, there will be fitness centers, laundry facilities and showers. More parking will be available, with the addition of 150 spaces at the 27 service areas.
The plan also aims to achieve environmental efficiency. Solar arrays will be installed, rainwater harvesting will be used and there will be reduced light pollution. Electric vehicle charging will be available at each of the 27 service areas.
"The Thruway is a vital connector for interstate commerce and its service areas provide motorists with essential travel amenities that allow them to reach their destinations safely," Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew Driscoll said. "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."
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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