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Give it a rest!

MORRISBURG, Ont. - The closing of any Tim Horton's makes me nervous. So I was shocked to hear that the Morrisburg Travel Plaza (eastbound on the 401) will shut its doors on March 31 and that means the...

MORRISBURG, Ont. –The closing of any Tim Horton’s makes me nervous. So I was shocked to hear that the Morrisburg Travel Plaza (eastbound on the 401) will shut its doors on March 31 and that means the Tim’s will be gone, too.

This is last stop before the Quebec border -a great place to grab a coffee, use the washroom and do up your log book before the Montreal scales. More importantly, there are about 100 truck parking spaces that could also disappear.

It’s not only Morrisburg that’s affected. The only Wendy’s that’s open late on the highway (the others close at 9:30 p. m.), located at the Bainsville Shell just inside the Ontario border, will also close March 31, as will the Tilbury south service centre, east of Windsor, Ont.

And there are more to come. Tilbury North will cease operations on May 30, 2008, followed by West Lorne on Sept. 2.

Trenton North (known to drivers as Wooler Hill) will be gone on Sept. 30, and ditto for the eastbound service centre at Dutton on the same date.

According to Paulette den Elzen of Infrastructure Ontario, these closures will be short-lived while the properties are being “re-mediated” for future use.

After a period of a few months, she thinks, temporary services like fuel, food and water, telephone, washrooms and limited parking will again available to the motoring public until the magnificent new structures are unveiled somewhere down the road.

The remodeling initiative is a partnership between the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Ontario and will eventually encompass all 23 of the 400-series service centres, 20 of whose leases are expiring by 2011.

A few of these buildings are 40 years old and almost as old as the 401.

Their architecture reflected the optimism and nostalgia of the 60s and 70s: Shell’s 1867 and Esso’s Voyageurs resonated our colonial heritage; the restaurants at Woodstock and Newcastle had a space-age quality to them.

Their striped flying saucer roofs could have dropped out of a Jetson’s episode (they’re painted flat black these days).

“Some of these sites have passed their best before date,” says den Elzen.

What these new rest stops will look like is anyone’s guess: the ministries are still waiting for proposals from a short list of service providers that have already been identified.

The government wants one company to be responsible for the food and fuel at all the sites.

Too bad they’re leaving the blueprint of the new facilities up to the contractor.

I strongly believe the aesthetics and design of these places will affect the highway landscape for years to come.

These rest stops are like an oasis for truck drivers and the layout should be as truck-friendly as possible.

Let’s hope truck parking is at the top of their list. What we have now is woefully inadequate.

Take a look at any of these rest areas at night and you’ll find trucks fighting for that last parking spot.

Truck trips to the US might be down but the Toronto-Montreal corridor is still busy and some companies have shifted their equipment to those lanes.

I also wanted to find out how many people would be affected by the closures so I called HMS Host in Bethesda, Maryland, the parent company who operates the Tim Horton’s and KFC franchise at Morrisburg.

Their media agent put me over a representative from Hill and Knowlton, a high-profile media relations firm whose clients include the US Government no less, who in turn told me to call the Ontario Ministry of Transport, which is where I started in the first place.

HMS Host never did tell me how many people would lose their jobs at the highway stops (I estimate about 50 people per site staffing the food concessions). But a Toronto manager of the multi-national was at least honest about the employees’ severance pay:”Whatever the law requires,” according to Bruce Carbone, the only one from HMS Host who would talk to me at all.

Somehow this doesn’t give me the warm fuzzy feeling you’re supposed to get after watching a Tim Horton’s commercial. “Yvonne” (not her real name) has been serving truckers for over a decade at one of these locations. Gals like Yvonne should be celebrated for their dedication and their important contribution to the highway community -maybe given long service awards or parts in a Tim Horton’s commercial. Instead they’re shown the door and told not to talk to the media. Yvonne was told to wait six months and apply across the road.

Canadian truck drivers have a symbiotic relationship with Tim Horton’s.

Almost 100% of the business after 8 p. m. at these rest stops is truckers.

The amount of coffee and donuts consumed by transportation providers on a daily basis must be staggering.

And clearly Tim Donut Limited does recognize its ethical obligation to provide parking. According to Rachel Douglas, the company’s public affairs director, “We do make every effort possible to acquire land off highways with a large enough lot to accommodate trucks. In fact we recently renovated our Bancroft location to accommodate trucks and Prescott.”

My experience with Tim Horton’s is spotty. Coming from Ottawa, the Tim’s at Madoc (Hwy. 7 and 62) has plenty of parking for rigs. But running down Hwy. 37 at Tweed, there’s a nice big Tim Horton’s just north of town, half way between Ottawa and Toronto, perfect for a break and a chance to mark up the log book – but there’s no truck parking.

At night, most drivers slip into the Co-op next door for a few minutes.

It’s marked ‘No Trucks’ and the cops will chase you out of there.

As far as the 401 goes, I usually take a pass on the crowded rest stops and get off the big road. There are good Tim’s with lots of parking at Port Hope (Toronto Road southbound one kilometre), Napanee (Centre Street south), Gananoque (just south of the casino) and Brockville.

Just don’t try these before 11 p. m. – night parking only.

But maybe it’s time to rethink the whole rest stop/fast food concept. Greg Manchester has been running up and down the 401 for 20 years.

He tells me he gets sick of Tim Horton’s menu and thinks that the Wendy’s should be forced to stay open for truck drivers.

“I remember the good old days,” he says.

“A driver could pull off the road and have a good wholesome hot meal and be back on the road in no time. They were a cafeteriastyle restaurant that served meals 24 hours a day. Me and my buddies used to go to the races in Cornwall every weekend and after the race would head to the Morrisburg Service Center for a bite before driving back home to Ottawa. I long for the days of a nice hot roast beef sandwich smothered in gravy and peas, or even better a nice meatloaf with mashed potatoes. All ready and waiting, and back on the road in half an hour.”

And would you like fries with that, Greg?

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