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They call them Public Safety Rest Stop Areas, but years past they were simply known as roadside parks, or rest areas. Somewhere back in the 70s or early 80s, they had evolved into "comfort stations".

You call them what you will, but motorists headed down the long highways of the Lone Star State simply call them "relief."

Regardless what you call them, if you've been down select Interstates of Texas lately you know these oasis on the concrete ribbon of life have been undergoing some chances in recent years, taking on a personality of their own, like roadside art with a purpose.

TxDOT, or better known as the Texas Department of Transportation, has been involved in an aggressive program to change the rest stops in recent years, giving them more than a facelift, adding user-friendly services that make motoring a more enjoyable experience in Texas. And while only select rest areas are scheduled for the improvement program over the next few years, more and more "new & improved" facilities have been cropping up along highways across Texas until, eventually, all the parks will receive the upgrade.

Improvements have so far included a physical facelift, often making the architecture and landscaping of the roadside area reflect the culture and/or history of the geographic region. A few of the improved facilities have included the construction of playground equipment for the kids to stretch out their legs and burn off some of that built-up energy from the road, wi-fi Internet access from the comfort of your car, additional interactive displays that tell about the geographic region, diaper changing stations, vending machines, walking trails and an air-conditioned lobby full of additional displays and traveler's information.

A major effort to renovate the state’s rest areas began in April 1999 when the Texas Transportation Commission approved $32 million in federal Enhancement Funding to renovate, build or relocate safety rest areas statewide. Additionally, $6.4 million was provided in state matching funds, and $13.8 million was carried over from state highway funds to begin the project. In August 2001, the Commission approved $48 million in Enhancement Funds and $12 million in state matching funds to continue the project.

While only about 90 of the roadside facilities have received the upgrade so far, the changes are obvious to motorists. For example, the Donley County eastbound facility along Interstate 40 is designed in a 50s-style art deco architecture, capturing the spirit of the old Route 66 family travel era. (I-40 was Route 66 in the past).

The Gillespie County facility on U.S. 290 near Johnson City is designed to capture the Texas Hill Country rock and timber look so prevalent in the area. In yet another instance, a facility near El Paso resembles an old adobe/stucco building.

For a complete list of renovated facilities statewide, check the TxDOT official site and plan your Texas travels accordingly.

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