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.