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live truck parking sign Photo: MDOT and HNTB
Real-time parking information signs such as this one in Michigan are expected to be live in eight mid-American states by 2019.

Case study: Michigan pilot assesses truck parking availability

System delivers real-time parking information to truck drivers

It’s a vicious cycle. Truck drivers face federally mandated rest breaks, but they have a tough time finding adequate parking.

Due to the uncertainty of where and when to park, many drivers end up parking illegally – along highway shoulders or in parking lots or gas stations not designated for them. And that could put them in dangerous situations.

For the past year, Michigan has been testing a system that assesses truck parking availability along one of the state’s busiest corridors – I-94 in the southwestern part of the state. The Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) has activated the I-94 Truck Parking Information and Management System (TPIMS), which assesses truck parking availability along I-94 and delivers real-time parking information to truck drivers. The project is federally funded under the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Truck Parking Facilities Discretionary Grants Program.

According to MDOT, I-94 in southwest Michigan carries some of the highest commercial volumes in the Midwest. Trucks account for approximately 23 to 30% of all traffic in the corridor, making it the highest concentration of commercial vehicles on interstate highways in Michigan.

And truck parking has become a major safety concern.

Commercial truck drivers routinely park on rest area entrance and exit ramps, in designated car parking areas, and on interstate entrance and exit ramps, according to DOT. Meanwhile, a significant percentage of truck parking spaces at private parking facilities are empty or under-used. Rather than building more parking spaces, the goals of TPIMS are to evaluate if existing parking spaces along the corridor can be used more efficiently, to identify available parking, and share that information with commercial vehicle operators.

“We feel there are plenty of places to park but [drivers] don’t have enough hours to press on due to the Hours of Service limitation,” said Collin Castle, connected vehicle technical manager, Michigan DOT. “We saw from our perspective that there was a problem, so we thought of a technology to help combat that problem.”

The general concept for collecting parking data is by counting trucks entering and leaving the truck parking facilities. Truck parking availability information is captured using sensors at rest areas and videos at private truck parking facilities. In-pavement sensors track when trucks drive into or leave a rest stop, and video surveillance detects when trucks drive in and out of private truck stops, Castle explained. Data are then transmitted to an MDOT ATMS server and made available at the Statewide Transportation Operations Center.

MDOT’s MiDrive website provides information for route and rest stop planning in a special section for trucks. In addition, Truck Smart Parking Services (TSPS) provides en-route truck parking information via a smartphone app. HNTB infrastructure solutions designed the system and provides operations and maintenance for the private truck stop facility deployments, Castle said. MDOT will use the TSPS information to evaluate its program.

“We felt the two technologies we chose for our project were the most cost effective and met our needs,” Castle told Fleet Owner.

An American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials/National Cooperative Highway Research Program study of state DOTs found that nearly 14% of respondents indicated that the truck parking issue/problem was “very significant” in their state. It also found that 57% of respondents had studied or analyzed truck parking needs and availability.

Castle mentioned that a group of states in the Midwest have gathered to form the Mid-America Association of State Highway Transportation Officials to request funds for certain projects. He said MDOT and other state DOTs – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana – have submitted an application to expand the truck parking system beyond the 94 corridor.

“The idea there is we would develop a system to allow sharing of data, sharing of formats but still allow individual states to tailor their needs,” Castle said. “We have states pulling resources together saying if we receive the funds we can make this more valuable to the trucking community.”

Castle added that the University Michigan is in the process of conducting a study on the MDOT pilot, which he says will wrap up at the end of the calendar year.

Ultimately, Castle said the goal is to supply the trucking industry with safe parking information. “The future is a little hazy right now,” he said. “But great things are coming.”

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