Monday, April 13, 2015

Free Coffee Ahead: The return of Java-touting rest area signs

By Barbara LaBoe

Weary Washington drivers looking for their next jolt of caffeine now have some extra help  “Free Coffee” signs have returned to several state safety rest areas.

Volunteers have served up free coffee at Washington rest areas for more than 20 years. It’s a popular program that benefits drivers and allows groups to collect donations for their efforts. The coffee never left our 37 participating rest areas, but for a while the signs alerting drivers to the free java did.

Why were the signs removed? We’re not anti-coffee by any stretch of the imagination. And we know our state loves its cup of joe. But, in 2012 we had to remove the previous flip-open “free coffee” signs due to safety concerns.  The volunteers had to walk much too close to moving traffic while opening and closing the signs. Sometimes they had to cross ditches and other barriers as well. Our own workers aren’t allowed alongside roadways without proper safety gear and spotters, and we couldn’t ask or allow volunteers to take similar risks. In all, 35 signs were removed even though the coffee kept flowing at each site.
This “Free Coffee” sign now tells drivers approaching the
northbound Smokey Point rest area about the free,
volunteer-run coffee program.

In 2014, two electronic signs failed at the Smokey Point Rest Area and were taken out of service. The Smokey Point signs had been a pilot program that was deemed too expensive to expand or continue. Each sign would cost about $6,000 to replace today. With tight state budgets, $6,000 signs just weren’t feasible, nor was it equitable to replace just the electronic signs.

After the Smokey Point signs were removed, we heard from volunteers that donations were suffering because some drivers no longer knew about the coffee.  We worked with our staff and a Smokey Point volunteer representative to find a way to meet everyone’s needs.  Sen. Kirk Pearson’s (R-Monroe) office also provided input.

The challenge was finding new signs that didn’t require volunteers to open and close them while still making it clear to drivers that not every site has volunteers – and coffee – 24 hours a day.  With the old signs, if someone accidentally left it open we’d sometimes hear complaints from drivers who stopped only to find the coffee stand closed.

The solution?  Our new, static “Free Coffee, Volunteer Program” signs. These signs were installed at the 13 most popular free coffee rest areas last month and do not need to be open or closed.  Adding “Volunteer Program” also indicates this is not a state-run or fully-staffed venture.  (Never fear, the free coffee remains at all 37 participating rest areas, but some just aren’t staffed with volunteers regularly enough for a sign at this point.)

We hope this compromise gives us the best of both worlds, the return of the signs and safe, happy volunteers. And, of course, the free coffee. Drink up.


calwatch said...

And it also recognizes the volunteers, since it is a donation based program.

Anonymous said...

when will we able to close during the night

WSDOT said...

Absolutely, and we wouldn’t have this valuable program without the many volunteers to take part and staff the stands.

WSDOT said...

Thanks for your question. Sounds like maybe you’re a volunteer at one of our rest areas?
The hours the coffee stands are open varies based on location and the day.
In some cases, such as weekends of busy holidays, volunteer groups are asked to staff the coffee stops 24/7. In others, starting and quitting times are determined by the local area maintenance office and communicated when volunteer groups sign up.
Information about signing up to staff one of the rest areas is available here:

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