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Disconnect looms between truck parking capacity and need

Dec. 8, 2020
As the truck parking capacity shortage worsens, industry stakeholders say it will take federal leadership and funding to solve the problem.

Truck parking shortages remain a major problem in every state and region in the U.S., with 98% of drivers reporting they’ve had problems finding safe parking, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Drivers reported the most acute parking challenges along major freight corridors in states along Interstate-95, the Chicago region, and I-5 in California.

When commercial truckers can’t find a place to park it’s a safety problem for everyone on the road. Findings from the National Coalition on Truck Parking, which is spearheaded by FHWA, show that shortages exist at all times of day, week, and year but are most prevalent overnight and on weekdays. The National Coalition on Truck Parking includes stakeholders who have an interest in solving the parking crisis, including trucking industry associations and representatives of state governments and law enforcement.

During a Dec. 2 meeting of the National Coalition on Truck Parking, industry stakeholders — the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Trucking Associations (ATA), Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the National Association of Truck Stop Owners, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) — gathered to discuss the latest findings from a 2019 Jason’s Law Survey. The most recent survey is an update from the 2015 Jason’s Law report.

The Jason’s Law Survey provides a nationwide assessment of truck parking capacity and is a requirement of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) legislation that became effective on Oct. 1, 2012.

Jason’s Law is named in honor of Jason Rivenburg. On March 5, 2009, Rivenburg stopped for a delivery in Virginia and then headed toward a delivery destination in South Carolina. While only 12 miles from the delivery location, he needed to find parking to rest through the night as his arrival location was not yet open to receive deliveries. Rivenburg did not have a safe place to park, but he had learned from truckers familiar with the area that a nearby abandoned gas station was a safe location to park, and he proceeded to park there for the night. He was attacked and murdered at the location while he slept. His killer took both his life and the $7 that he had in his wallet.

For more than a decade, OOIDA has been talking about the truck driver parking shortage and ways to address it. During the coalition's meeting, Bryce Mongeon, director of Legislative Affairs for OOIDA, noted that the association has been working to educate lawmakers on the dangers of the national truck parking shortage as well as the challenges and stress it creates for truckers. 

OOIDA has been building support for the Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act in Congress. Also known as H.R. 6-10-4, the bill was introduced by U.S. Reps. Mike Bost (R-Illinois) and Angie Craig (D-Minnesota). This legislation would dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars in existing highway safety funding for truck parking projects through the creation of a competitive grant program. The program would focus funding exclusively on expanding parking capacity, for example, by constructing new truck parking spaces or converting existing space at weigh stations and rest stops.

Mongeon told FleetOwner that OOIDA heard some good ideas during the Dec. 2 meeting, but that there was a heavy focus on implementing more technology and driver apps that would notify truckers when spots are available. The problem with that is making sure the information available on those apps is updated and available in real-time.

“As we look at it, the focus should really be on capacity,” Mongeon said. “There were some other efforts that were talked about, including trying to engage local and state lawmakers in conversations about zoning, land use, and things that could sometimes be an obstacle in expanding truck parking capacity if there is local opposition that might hold up a project.”

“If you have a driver who is tired or wants to take a break or they are coming up on a federally mandated rest break, they need a safe place to park,” he added. “Because of the shortage, if they can’t find a parking space, they are put in a no-win situation and have to decide, ‘Do I pull over and park on the highway shoulder? Do I pull over and take a break? Do I keep driving while possibly fatigued in violation of hours of service rules in order to find a legal parking spot?’

"Obviously, that is stressful for the truck drivers, but, more broadly, we are talking to Congress about how this is a safety issue for everyone on the road," Mongeon continued. "If there are trucks parked illegally on the shoulder, that’s a hazard for other motorists.”

According to FHWA, there are approximately 313,000 truck parking spaces nationally — 40,000 at public rest areas and 273,000 at private truck stops. Between 2014 and 2019, there was a 6% increase in public truck parking spaces and an 11% increase in private parking spaces. However, state Departments of Transportation reported that not many new public facilities or spaces are being developed and that challenges exist in planning, funding, and accommodating truck parking.

“While there was some increase in truck parking capacity, by some measurements, it’s not keeping pace with the need,” Mongeon said. “It’s not keeping pace with the increase in truck vehicle miles traveled over the last few years — that kind of seems like we are treading water. At the national level, we are unfortunately struggling to keep pace with the need.”

Overall, in the five years since the last Jason’s Law survey, the truck parking shortage appears to have worsened. The 2015 survey indicated severe problems in three regions and several new regions of concern, including the entire I-95 corridor, the entire Pacific coast region, and outlying areas of Chicago.

Darrin Roth, vice president of Highway Operations for the American Trucking Associations, who also attended the coalition’s meeting told FleetOwner: “Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of an effort underway by parking providers – both public and private – to address the problem with new capacity.”

“Most states indicated that they don’t intend to increase capacity, as did 79% of private providers,” Roth explained. “It also appears that there seems to be a mismatch between capacity location and demand. Whereas 38% of truck tonnage is in 32 urban areas, just 8.5% of truck parking spaces are in these areas. This is likely because land in large urban areas is scarce and expensive, and NIMBYism has likely prevented truck stops from being able to locate or expand in these areas. It’s critical to drivers that they are able to stay in locations where they’re making deliveries (primarily large urban areas) to maximize efficiency.”

The plus side is there is greater awareness and understanding of the problem today than there was a few years ago. As a result, many states have begun to look for solutions, including real-time information for drivers, and identification of where shortages exist and why, Roth noted.

“However, federal leadership, including an infusion of federal funds, will be necessary to address the issue,” Roth said.

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