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.

On April 15, Virginia DOT spokesman Jeff Caldwell told listeners of the BlogTalkRadio.com show that his agency “heard loud and clear” from truckers. “We realize that the two-hour restriction is very difficult on your community,” he said. Seven percent of all truck parking in Virginia would have been shuttered in the first proposal, Caldwell said. VDOT said closing the rest areas would save $12 million and ease a tight budget.

Trucker advocate Frederick Schaffner, of Nocona, Texas, sparred with Caldwell on the show, saying conflicts in regulations and Virginia’s two-hour parking limit at rest areas put truckers in a legal bind. Schaffner, in part through his website, www.theamericandriver.com, has advocated for trucking issues for seven years.

“A two-hour time limit forcing drivers to drive when they’re tired is contrary to public safety,” Schaffner said. “We’ve located only four to five hotels along the 324 miles of interstate on I-81.” Schaffner says the interstates should have a rest stop every 60 miles, as 1960s highway bills called for.

In January 2005, months after a motorist on a Maryland interstate accidentally ran into the back of an 18-wheeler, officials surveyed truckers and counted trucks parked in improper locations. They calculated a statewide shortage of nearly 1,300 truck parking spaces. Many truck stop operators say they’re full from dark to dusk, says Maryland DOT Motor Carrier Policy Officer Ed Miller.

Maryland is part of a 15-state coalition formed in 1993 to plan for traffic needs along the I-95 corridor. New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia have also conducted parking studies, and Maryland will follow up with another parking survey in 2010.

As attention to the issue rises, owner-operators find themselves in a bind along the busiest corridors.

Rick Stagner, 52, a heavy-haul operator leased to Anderson Trucking Service, says he avoids New Jersey’s crowded turnpikes and prefers Wyoming’s unadorned parking lots. With no other choices, he’s had to park overnight in industrial lots a couple of times.

Five years ago, tired and out of hours, Stagner stopped at 3 a.m. on an I-66 ramp between Washington, D.C., and Winchester, Va. When a trooper knocked on Stagner’s door at dawn, he was relieved not to be under arrest. “He said, ‘Are you about ready to go?’ ” recalls Stagner, who then resumed his return to Grand Prairie, Texas.

He says that complying with the 10-hour rest period is difficult in some states, such as Virginia, where overnight rest area stops are prohibited. “You try to abide by the law and then they throw up these obstacles that don’t allow you do that,” he says, noting that he takes hours to plan his route and stops.

In states along high-traffic corridors that have no rest area time restrictions, such as Virginia’s northern neighbor, Maryland, finding open spaces can be a challenge. When owner-operator Marty Hageman, of Fremont, Neb., runs through Arkansas, he says he plans “to go through it and not stop. You’ve got to plan your trip because they have no rest stops and the truck stops are inadequate.”

Like Virginia, Indiana has high freight volume with a confluence of interstates, I-90, I-94, I-70, I-69 and I-65 among them. To accommodate traffic, the state has no strict rule preventing overnight truck parking in public spaces, is adding truck parking spaces to rest areas to maximize land use and, for several years, has designed lots with no curbs in the renovations.

Facilities Director Tom Vanderpool says overcrowded parking lots accompanied freight corridors’ exponential growth during his 40 years at the Indiana Department of Transportation. Every other year, the state tries to add 80 spaces to some original 20-space sites, built in the 1960s, and the spaces are added behind the buildings for security. Two of their closed rest areas have become aged and are obsolete because they are near large truck stops. The others will be renovated and expanded, Vanderpool says.

He recalls the night nine years ago when the Greenfield rest area on I-70 east of Indianapolis re-opened after it was expanded from 10 to 100 spaces.

“At 2 in the morning, we counted 150 trucks parked on the shoulders,” Vanderpool says. “We knew truckers would park somewhere, and they did.”

Large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target occasionally offer truck parking, but a lack of security and amenities prevents widespread use. “The Wal-Marts will let you park your truck and get your groceries,” says owner-operator Hoyt Maisack, of Cory, Ind., noting that the policy is not uniform from store to store.

Regardless of who provides it, more secure parking is desperately needed, says 36-year-old owner-operator Scott Crewel, who had been friends with Jason Rivenburg for 20 years. Crewel often stopped on Monday night routes with his pug, Brewster, at the abandoned grocery where Rivenburg was killed.

“It was horrible,” Crewel says of his friend’s death. “I just hope that something comes from this, even if it’s something small.”

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