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Safety Rest Areas

MnDOT Policy OP003
View/print signed policy (PDF)

Policy statement

This policy governs publication distribution and other permitted activities at Class I Safety Rest Areas (“SRAs”), which includes Travel Information Centers, Welcome Centers and Visitor Centers. Class I SRAs are those rest areas equipped with flush toilets. This policy clarifies the proper review process with respect to publication distribution and other SRA Activities.

Reason for policy

MnDOT is required by Minnesota Statutes §86A.05, subdivision 12 and Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations, §§752.3(a) and 752.5, to manage SRAs. The intent of this policy is to comply with the state and federal SRA laws through management of the distribution of publications and supervision of travel-related activities at SRAs.

SRAs facilitate the safety and convenience of the traveling public by providing a location where the traveling public can pull off the highway to rest, park, and obtain travel information. The presence of other activities at SRAs may negatively impact the public use and enjoyment of the facilities.
Without formal regulation of publication distribution and permitted activities, SRAs have experienced excessive litter, vandalism, rodent infestation, and complaints from motorists. The net effect has been to negatively impact SRA aesthetics, burden SRA resources, and endanger the safety and welfare of the traveling public.

With respect to the distribution of publications, this policy generally does not apply to:

  • Other state governmental units, including Explore Minnesota Tourism, Department of Natural Resources, State Patrol staff, or their contractors.
  • SRA facility partners or State Services for the Blind operating under an agreement pursuant to Minnesota Statutes §160.272 - §160.2755.

The policy affords the department the flexibility to continue to explore new partnerships to encourage tourism and economic development, while assuring that the purposes of Class I Safety Rest Areas are maintained.

Who needs to know this policy

MnDOT personnel need to know this policy if they are directly or indirectly involved with:

  • Issuance of permits to use MnDOT highway right-of-ways
  • Development of SRA agreements and leases
  • Communication of SRA-related matters to elected officials or the general public
  • SRA maintenance and operations
  • Planning of statutorily authorized SRA initiatives, e.g., vending services, advertising, sponsorship, and public-private partnerships


A. Application to Distribute a Publication

1. Materials to be Submitted with Application

An applicant must submit the following materials to the SRA Program Manager for approval:

  • A completed, signed, and dated “Application to Distribute” form, (hereafter referred to as “application” in this Policy).
  • Scale drawing and/or product cut sheet of the newsrack showing newsrack size, materials, colors, and construction
  • A sample of the publication the applicant proposes to distribute
  • Certificate of insurance as required by this policy.
2. Selection and Award Process

MnDOT will accept applications on an annual basis from March 1 through April 15. Annual permits expire each year on May 15. Applicants may submit only one application per publication per SRA. MnDOT will reject additional applications for the same publication at a single SRA.

MnDOT will issue up to eight (8) newsrack permits per SRA. For locations where MnDOT receives eight (8) or fewer applications, MnDOT will approve all applications that comply with the requirements of this policy. For each location where MnDOT receives more than eight (8) non-duplicative applications, MnDOT will hold a lottery administered as follows:

  • Each application that complies with the requirements of this policy will be assigned a letter
  • Letters will be drawn at random until the letters that correspond with all applications received for that SRA have been drawn
  • The applications matching the first eight (8) letters drawn will be approved
  • The remaining application(s) not selected will be placed on a waitlist noting the order drawn
  • In the event that openings occur during the year, MnDOT will select applications on the waitlist in the order drawn during the lottery

MnDOT will approve applications by signing the submitted application form, returning a copy to the applicant along with information regarding the location within the SRA where the publisher may place the newsrack. MnDOT does not charge an application or a permit fee related to distribution of publications.

3. Special Provisions

A publisher must not:

  • Assign its permit to another person or entity
  • Store publications at SRAs
  • Dispose of excess or outdated publications in receptacles at a SRA or engage in other activities prohibited in Minnesota Statutes §160.2755
  • Distribute or display obscene materials at SRAs as defined in Minnesota Statutes §617.241
  • Install a newsrack before approved by MnDOT and before May 15 of the permit year
  • Damage state property
  • Fail to reimburse MnDOT for the cost of any remedial action(s) caused by the publisher
4. Physical Requirements for Newsracks

MnDOT will only permit distribution of any publication using a newsrack that satisfies the following requirements:

  • Constructed of metal or heavy-duty plastic designed specifically for dispensing publications from an exterior location, subject to Minnesota’s varying weather conditions
  • Dispenses no more than one (1) publication
  • ADA compliant, see Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C §1201 et seq.
  • Features a transparent window through which the publication’s cover is discernible
  • Height of 50 inches or less, width of 30 inches or less, depth of 24 inches or less, and weighted adequately or otherwise secured to prevent the newsrack from being toppled by wind
  • Completely enclosed, with a self-closing door that either self-latches or otherwise requires manual or mechanical release at each use
  • Predominantly earth tone in color such as black, brown, tan, gray or green. MnDOT will not permit fluorescent or other strikingly bright or vivid colors on newsracks
  • Does not create a danger to the general public
  • Equipped with a coin-return mechanism or other means to facilitate immediate refund when a fee is charged
  • Devoid of advertising other than the publication name and logo, which must be placed in an area no larger than 15 by 17 inches on the front, sides and/or back of Newsrack
  • Prominently and legibly displays the following information on the front of newsrack: the name of newsrack owner, distributor name, full mailing address, 10-digit telephone number and email address
  • Conspicuously and legibly displays the statement, “Disclaimer: Any opinions, advice, statements, services, offers, or other information or content expressed or made available by third parties, including information providers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or distributor(s) and do not state or reflect those of State of Minnesota. Reference herein to any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the State of Minnesota.”
  • Devoid of dirt or grease; chipped, faded, peeling, or cracked paint; rust or corrosion; cracked, dented, blemished, or discolored glass
5. Abandonment

Publishers must provide regular and periodic maintenance checks of their newsrack(s) and must assure the newsrack does not create a danger to persons using the newsrack or to the general public. In the event a newsrack remains empty or fails to meet the physical requirements of this policy, including that resulting from vandalism or act of God, for a period of 30 continuous calendar days, MnDOT will deem the newsrack abandoned and treat it as in violation of the permit.

In the event a publisher desires to voluntarily abandon a newsrack location, the publisher must notify the SRA Program Manager, remove the newsrack, and restore the newsrack area to the preinstalled condition.

6. Location of Newsracks

The SRA Program Manager will designate one location for the newsracks on the SRA site along a primary walk connecting the car parking lot with a SRA building’s main entrance. The publisher may not install any newsrack at a SRA except at the designated newsrack location.

The publisher must install the newsrack in a safe and secure manner to prevent theft or the creation of a hazard in the event of severe weather. The publisher may accomplish this by either weighting of the newsrack or anchoring it to an independent concrete base housed within the footprint of the newsrack. The publisher may not chain a newsrack to any existing elements on site or to other newsracks.

7. Violation and remedial action

The SRA Program Manager will take any remedial action deemed necessary and appropriate to address a publisher’s noncompliance with this policy. Such remedial action may include:

  • Removal and/or disposal of the newsrack(s) and publication(s)
  • Revocation of the publisher's authority to distribute publications at MnDOT SRAs for one calendar year
  • Payment for repair of damaged state property
8. Notice of remedial action

After MnDOT takes any remedial action authorized by this policy, the SRA Program Manager, will within fourteen (14) calendar days send written notice, via certified mail, to the noncompliant party detailing the alleged violations, the remedial action taken by MnDOT, and the action MnDOT requires the noncompliant party to take, which may include:

  • Retrieval, repair or replacement of the subject newsrack
  • Payment of costs incurred by MnDOT to address the noncompliance

Notice is complete upon mailing to the address provided by the publisher in the application. The publisher must update the SRA Program Manager if the publisher’s address or contact information changes over the course of the permit period.

The publisher will be liable to MnDOT for the actual costs associated with removal and storage of the newsrack. MnDOT will dispose of any newsrack that a publisher fails to retrieve within (75) calendar days after the mailing of the written notice.

9. Opportunity for Informal Hearing

If the publisher disagrees with the determinations of noncompliance and/or the remedial actions set forth in MnDOT’s written notice, the publisher will have thirty (30) calendar days from the date the notice was mailed to request an informal hearing before MnDOT’s Deputy Commissioner or his or her designee. Requests for an informal hearing shall be addressed to: Deputy Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Transportation, 395 John Ireland Boulevard, Saint Paul, MN 55155. MnDOT will conduct an informal hearing at a date, time, and location determined by MnDOT’s Deputy Commissioner or his or her designee. A noncompliant party’s failure to request a hearing within the time allowed under this policy, or a noncompliant party’s failure to appear at the hearing, will result in the noncompliant party’s forfeiture of the opportunity for the informal hearing.

B. Requests for Other SRA Activities

Permission may be requested from MnDOT to engage in activities that provide for the safety and convenience of the traveling public through opportunities for rest, parking, travel information, and related actions that facilitate safe and convenient travel by motor vehicle. Activities must not, in any way, interfere with the normal use of the SRA facilities by the public, and activities must be provided free of charge.

Examples of permissible activities include: providing coffee or windshield washing at no charge, and distribution of “See Motorcycles” bumper stickers. Examples of impermissible activities include: weddings, worship services, political events, geocaching, hunting, posting of signs or posters, and distribution or exhibition of obscene materials.

1. Materials to be Submitted

An applicant must submit the following materials to the SRA Program Manager for permit consideration:

  • A written request at least 60 calendar days before the proposed Activity. The request must state the date and duration for the activity, the expected attendance, and the specific activities expected to occur, and a description of any items the applicant will bring to the SRA.
  • Certificate of insurance as required by this policy.

MnDOT may request additional information from the applicant about the proposed Activity.

2. Approval Process

SRA Program Manager will determine whether the proposed activity complies with state and federal laws and regulations and demonstrably supports the purposes of SRAs. Requests will be addressed on a first come, first served basis. After the SRA Program Manager has approved a request, District Permits staff will issue a permit to the applicant.

3. Special Provisions

In addition to restrictions included in the permit, the permittee must comply with the following:

  • Prohibit the use and distribution of alcoholic beverages and controlled substances during the activity.
  • Assume responsibility for activity clean-up, and bear all costs of policing, cleaning, and restoring the SRA to its pre-activity condition within the time frame requested by MnDOT.
  • Reimburse MnDOT for costs incurred by MnDOT due to any failure to perform cleanup and restoration in a manner reasonably acceptable to MnDOT.
  • Comply with applicable laws and regulations in use of the SRA and conduct of the activity.
  • Not distribute, display or allow performance of obscene matter, as defined in Minnesota Statutes §617.241
  • Limit all activities conducted on the property to any conditions of MnDOT approval.
  • Accept that failure to abide by the permit or any other applicable laws, rules, or MnDOT policies may result in revocation of current and future activity permitting.
  • Not place or erect any signage relating to the special activity unless it has been approved in advance by MnDOT.

Permittee may:

  • Accept voluntary donations using a sign with the single message ‘DONATIONS.’
  • Connect to exterior water and electrical connections, if available.

MnDOT may, upon request, permit a sign on highway right-of-way, in advance of the SRA, advertising this activity. MnDOT will not permit placement of the sign before or after the hours that refreshments are distributed or if the sign could interfere with existing signing or create a hazard.

C. Insurance and Liability Requirements for Distribution of Publications and Other Activities

The publisher in the case of publication distribution, and the permittee in the case of permitted activities, must accept the following responsibilities:

  • The applicant shall procure and maintain commercial general liability insurance during the term of the permit, and must have the State of Minnesota added as an additional insured to the policy. The policy must be of a duration, form and amount satisfactory to MnDOT, to cover any loss that may be incurred for or on account of any matter, cause or thing arising out of the permitted publication distribution or activity, and for property damage, personal injury and public liability under the permit’s indemnification clause. The amount of insurance must have a limit of not less than two (2) million dollars in the aggregate. An Umbrella or Excess Liability insurance policy may be used to supplement the underlying policy limits to satisfy the full policy limits required herein. If a cancellation notice from an insurance carrier affording coverage herein is received by the policyholder, the policyholder must notify MnDOT within five (5) business days with a copy of the cancellation notice, unless the policy contains a provision that coverage afforded under the policy will not be cancelled without at least thirty (30) calendar days prior written notice to MnDOT.
  • The applicant must agree to accept full liability for any and all direct and consequential damages associated with its actions and property relating to its permit. The applicant must agree to indemnify, save, defend and hold harmless the State, MnDOT, State employees, officers, agents and servants from any and all claims resulting from injuries, damages and losses arising out of, connected with, or in any way associated with the permit requested by the applicant.



Activity or Activities

The collective acts of people engaged in a common enterprise that demonstrably supports the purposes for which SRAs were created.


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C §1201 et seq.


An applicant is any individual, group, or entity that desires to distribute publications or engage in another activity at a MnDOT SRA.


Any self-service or coin-operated box, container, storage unit, or other dispenser owned, installed, used, and maintained by a Publisher for the sale and/or distribution of publications at a MnDOT SRA.


Any individual, group, or entity permitted by MnDOT to perform an activity at a SRA.


A newspaper, pamphlet, newsletter, or magazine printed and distributed to convey news and information or other matters of public interest. A publication may contain advertisements.


Any individual, group, or entity approved by MnDOT to distribute publications at a SRA.

Safety Rest Area or SRA

A roadside facility designated by the Commissioner of Transportation as a rest area or as a welcome, travel, visitor, or tourist information center, which is removed from the traveled way with parking and such facilities for the motorist as is necessary for the traveling public’s rest, relaxation, comfort, and information needs, see Minnesota Statutes §86A.05, subd. 12; and Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations, §§752.3(a) and 752.5. The definition of “SRA” includes the facilities described in 23 U.S.C §111(b). This policy only applies to facilities that feature flush toilets which MnDOT classifies as Class I rest areas.



The Applicant/Publisher/Permittee must:

  • Submit the appropriate application form or request and other materials described in this policy
  • Agree to assume liability and hold MnDOT and the State harmless for any and all direct and consequential damages caused by its newsrack, publication, or other activity
  • Request an opportunity for informal hearing when appropriate
  • Otherwise comply with this policy and related permit

District Area Maintenance Engineer

District Area Maintenance Engineers will provide feedback to SRA Program Manager regarding the exact location of proposed newsracks and recommendations with respect to requests for other SRA Activities.

District Permits staff

MnDOT District Permits staff will:

  • Process applications for a permit to conduct an activity at an SRA that have been approved by the SRA Program Manager
  • Maintain permits authorized under this policy
  • Forward copies of the permit to the Physical Plant Supervisor for the District in which the SRA occurs and to the statewide custodial service provider

District Physical Plant Supervisor

District Physical Plant Supervisors will provide recommendations to SRA Program Manager regarding the location of newsracks at SRAs and recommendations with respect to requests for other SRA Activities.

MnDOT Deputy Commissioner

The MnDOT Deputy Commissioner or his/her designee will conduct an informal hearing upon request under this policy.

SRA Program Manager

The SRA Program Manager will:

  • Review applications, requests and submitted materials to determine if application meets requirements of this policy
  • Reject applications and requests not complying with this policy by; marking application “REJECTED”, noting the reason for the rejection and returning a copy of the application or request to the applicant at the address on the application.
  • Solicit feedback from the District Physical Plant Supervisor, District Area Maintenance Engineer, the statewide custodial service provider, and any SRA partners regarding the location of newsracks and requested other SRA activities
  • Assist District Permit staff with processing permit applications for other SRA Activities
  • Take any remedial action deemed necessary and appropriate to address a publisher’s or a permittee’ss noncompliance with this policy or the permit

Statewide Custodial Services Provider

The Statewide Custodial Services Provider will:

  • Provide feedback to SRA Program Manager regarding the exact location of proposed newsracks and recommendations with respect to requests for other SRA activities
  • Assist with identifying abandoned newsracks
  • Monitoring permitted activities
  • Otherwise assist MnDOT in the management of distributed publications

Frequently asked questions

Q: What do federal courts say about Free Speech rights at SRAs?

A: Courts have found that perimeter sidewalks at highway SRAs are nonpublic forums and that government-imposed restrictions on speech at SRAs “need only be reasonable and not an effort to suppress expression merely because of opposition to the speaker’s views.” Jacobson v. Dept. of Transportation, 450 F.3d 778, 780 (8th Cir. 2006); see also Int’l Soc’y for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672, 683 (1992) (holding “the restriction need only be reasonable; it need not be the most reasonable or the only reasonable limitation.”).

Q: Will MnDOT permit the placement of a memorial at a SRA?

A: Memorials that simply acknowledge an individual, group or event do not promote the purpose of SRAs. However, MnDOT may permit a memorial that is an integral part of a motorist service or amenity that directly supports a rest area purpose. Examples of amenities that support rest area functions include installation of interpretive exhibits or development of a walking trail for SRA users.

Related information

History of policy updates or amendments

New policy.

Effective date

Effective date as signed by responsible senior officer.


Responsible Senior Officer

Susan Mulvihill, P.E.
Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer

Policy Owner

Chris Roy, P.E.
Director, Project Management and Technical Support

Policy Contact

Robert Williams
State Rest Area Program Manager