Iowa DOT looking to test rest area exercise equipment

Westbound Interstate 80 rest stop near Wilton to get equipment pending sponsorship

Published: April 8 2014 | 5:10 pm - Updated: 8 April 2014 | 10:14 pm in News,

The Iowa Department of Transportation plans to seek a sponsor to pay for exercise equipment at the westbound Interstate 80 rest stop near Wilton.

It would be the first rest area like it in Iowa.

"This wouldn't be a gym," said Steve McMenamin, administrator of Iowa's rest areas. "But, if you just wanted to workout some kinks and maybe work up your heart a little bit, that is what will be out there."

The pieces would be simple, low maintenance and non-electrical, and likely stationed along existing walking trails, he said.

The initiative falls in line with Gov. Terry Branstad's Healthy Iowa plan, and it will help motorists break up their drive, he said. The idea originated with Drake University public manager students, and it became financially feasible under Iowa's new rest area sponsorship program, McMenamin said.

The extent of the project, whether it expands to other rest areas or whether it takes off at all will depend on whether sponsors step forward.

Bidding for a sponsorship, which could begin in the next few months, falls under Iowa's new rest area sponsorship program. The program allows organizations to pay to display their name or logo on a sign promoting the rest area and a second branded sign inside the facility.

Iowa's rest area sponsorship program was signed into law in 2012 after loosened guidelines from the Federal Highway Administration in March 2012.

"All of the states are looking for ways to subsidize their budgets, and the sponsorship idea was unique because it was the first time the Federal Highway Administration would allow something like that on the highway system," McMenamin said. "But, a number of states thought they would be more cash cows then they have been."

The demand has been somewhat limited in Iowa thus far.

The state awarded sponsors for eight of Iowa's 38 rest areas last fall. Still, it's $266,000 in new money over the next three years. A second round of bidding yielded no new sponsorships, but the state will continue taking bids once a year, McMenamin said.

Allied Insurance, of Des Moines, pays $20,000 to display their banner to approximately 50,000 motorists a day passing the north and southbound rest areas near mile marker 13 on Interstate 380. That's the only sponsored rest area in eastern Iowa.

The Newton Convention and Visitors Bureau pays $3,000 annually to sponsor a rest area on Interstate 80 eastbound near Mitchellville.

Iowa State University's athletic department sponsors five rest stops, including three on Interstate 35 north of Ames, and two on Interstate 80 near Waukee. The total cost is $95,000. The Waukee rest area contract is for just one year because that rest stop is being closed, while the others are for three years.

"Under (Iowa State athletic director) Jamie Pollard's direction, we like to take shots to promote our brand," said Steve Malchow, senior associate athletics director. "We thought this was a really unique way to get our brand out across the state."

He said it is too early to measure impact, but they've been pleased so far.

The University of Iowa athletic department has asked to be notified again when upcoming bidding opportunities arise, UI spokesman Tom Moore said in an email.

While some DOT literature says the program is to help defray the cost of rest area operations, the law directs the money to the primary road fund, which covers a number of expenses including rest area operations.

"The money is not earmarked for rest areas," he said.

The Wilton sponsorship would be an exception because that money would go directly to covering the exercise equipment, McMenamin said.

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