Truck Parking

| June 02, 2009

Carl Savage had planned to celebrate the birth of twin grandchildren this spring.

But before they were born, he mourned the death of their father, his son-in-law, Jason Rivenburg. The 35-year-old trucker, of Fultonham, N.Y., died of gunshot wounds when robbed of $7 March 5. He was parked at an abandoned grocery off of I-26 in South Carolina. Willie Pelzer, 22, has been charged with murder and two 21-year-olds have been charged as accessories.

Savage, a 52-year-old construction worker, and relatives instantly contacted legislators about the need for safer truck parking. By mid-April, more than 5,500 people had signed the family’s online petition for safer parking and more than 1,700 handwritten notes had arrived.

On April 28, the Rivenburg family’s congressional representative, Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), introduced bill H.R. 2156, named Jason’s Law. It calls for spending $120 million over six years to construct secure parking near existing truck stops, among other provisions. The bill had 20 cosponsors at press time and had been introduced in the Senate.

“I know it’s going to take a long time,” says Savage, a former regional hauler. “It’s a lot bigger problem than I ever thought. We’re in this for the long haul.”

Jason’s Law comes at a time when some rest areas are closing and truck stops face difficulties in expanding. While its funding would not completely solve the parking shortage, it could be a step in the right direction for states with long-standing parking problems that have seen little relief from other initiatives.

“It’s an acute problem,” says Stephen Keppler of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. “We need to get some folks in Congress more aware.”

A 2002 U.S. Department of Transportation study concluded at least 35 states had a shortage of truck parking. This study in part resulted in funding for federal pilot projects, such as 2008′s $11 million toward technology that would disseminate real-time information on parking availability to truckers in the I-95 and I-5 corridors.

The 2005 SAFETEA-LU highway transportation reauthorization bill initially called for construction of more spaces near interstates, but funding was cut. There have been no other major federal efforts to add parking spaces since then. More recently, rest area closures have worsened as states cope with decreasing revenue, aging facilities and renovations.

In January 2008, Louisiana closed 23 of its 34 public rest areas. In February, New Hampshire announced that nine rest areas would be closed and Arizona said it would close five.

California, cited in a 2007 University of California Berkeley study to have severe parking shortages, is closing 21 rest areas, some for renovation. Indiana has closed six, some for expansion and others due to aging.

Outrage over a plan to close 25 rest stops along I-81 and I-95 in Virginia prompted the commwealth’s DOT to propose closing 19 instead and to revise its commercial parking rule from two hours to no overnight parking. Four rest stops will remain open along I-81, and 225 lost rest area truck parking spaces will be replaced in reconfigured parking lots.

The Virginia Transportation Research Council cited shortages in 2004 at rest areas along I-66, I-77, I-85 and I-95.

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