The decades-old problem of truck parking was confined for years largely to congested metropolitan areas, especially on certain Eastern seaboard and California lanes. Studies now show that it has worsened in those areas and spread into other locales. In recent Overdrive polling, 83 percent of readers noted simply that “it’s bad all over” when it comes to parking.
For six in 10 Overdrive readers, furthermore, parking difficulties are a daily occurrence on the road.
How often do you experience difficulty finding a suitable parking space?
Here’s what’s happening in response:
- The creation of new parking spaces is accelerating, with the public/private balance continuing to shift to private capacity.
- More informational programs to deliver real-time parking space availability are being implemented.
- Some major truck stop chains now offer paid reservations.
Data show a large divergence among states in available public and private parking spaces, from a high of 171 spaces per 100,000 miles of annual truck vehicle miles traveled in Montana to just 31 in Rhode Island. Or, measured by mile of National Highway System roadway, the range of spaces runs from 359 per 100 miles in Louisiana to, again at the top of the worst-states list, Rhode Island’s 39.
One recent catalyst was the August release of the Jason’s Law Truck Parking Study, mandated in the 2012 MAP-21 highway bill. If the study has done anything, it’s identified where the need is most pressing across the nation, say parking advocate Hope Rivenburg and Scott Grenerth, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
Grenerth hopes the federal study and the new National Coalition on Truck Parking “will lead to thinking outside the box.”
TRUCK STOP EXPANSION
Major truck stop chains, notably Love’s Travel Stops, continue to expand. The company has about 17,700 spaces at more than 350 locations, about 50 of them being C-store-only locations. “We’re on track to open in the neighborhood of 30 locations this year,” says Love’s spokesperson Kealey Dorian. In 2017, an estimated 4,100 parking spaces will be added and available at new facilities.
Some of that growth is in secondary markets, sized on the low end of Love’s typical 60- to 110-space stops. “We’re committed to expanding everywhere, not just the major thoroughfares,” Dorian says. She acknowledges driver criticism that many of the new major market stops are too far from metro areas.
TravelCenters of America, operator of TA and Petro Stopping Centers, also has been in expansion mode; the company added 2,800 spaces over the last three years. A new Petro in Gary, Ind., added 405 new spaces to “a very congested I-80/I-90 corridor,” says spokesman Tom Liutkus.
In Virginia, a top 20 problem state for parking in Overdrive’s analysis, a TA Petro location along I-81 is adding another 300 spaces. Liutkus says three new facilities will open in 2016 in three other states known for parking problems: Tennessee, Texas and Illinois.
This year, in addition to beginning a test run of paid-parking reservations at 10 sites around the country, Pilot Flying J has added about 18 sites with an average 110 parking spaces in each. In 2016, another 25 sites of similar size are coming online.
AVAILABILITY INFO SYSTEMS
In the public arena, the MAP-21 highway bill’s Jason’s Law language not only required the recently released study but also created new avenues for federal funding of truck-parking initiatives, both public and private.
The good news is that projects funded by programs created by the highway bill prior to MAP-21 are seeing action today, with some well in place. The Jason’s Law report laid out the following large-scale technology initiatives to provide space-availability information to drivers:
- A “Rest Area Parking Information and Deployment System” on I-81 near Harrisburg, Pa.
- Minnesota’s $2 million to build an automated space detection and info system on I-94, up and running near three rest areas.
- Wisconsin DOT’s $1 million for a similar project.
- Michigan DOT’s $4.5 million for a project now deployed showing available truck and rest stop spaces via road signs and other methods on I-94 between the Indiana border and Marshall, Mich.
In late October, $25 million in additional funding was announced for an eight-state collaborative project to include Wisconsin and Minnesota’s ongoing work and to follow Michigan’s lead in the remaining roughly contiguous states of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas and Iowa.
Only one of the projects mentioned above is located in a state (Pennsylvania) where the parking need is highest, according to Overdrive’s analysis.
Matt Junak of infrastructure firm HNTB, contracted with Michigan DOT on its parking info system, calls the Jason’s Law study an “awesome recap of where we’re at” in terms of parking needs, but not of ongoing projects, which are more numerous than those detailed in the report. While some are highlighted on the map, those also include projects in states not among Overdrive’s top 20 worst states for parking.
HNTB also is working with Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kansas in the Midwest and farther afield. In Florida, the firm is consulting with FDOT on a project along the I-95 and I-4 corridors that may involve road signs but will share information on facilities that aren’t truck stops.
Florida, Junak says, could have live availability information “operational a year from now at least, with a data feed that can be integrated into their traveler information system” or private in-cab-delivery devices.
In Michigan, a test is under way with the James Burg Trucking fleet, running regularly between Detroit and Chicago, that Junak says has transponders installed in the fleet’s trucks to share parking data with drivers.
“One of the big things we strategically did here in Michigan [was to recognize that the] biggest problem was not” the lack of parking spaces, but rather “the lack of information” about available space, Junak says.
Rest areas along the I-94 route covered under the program in place there showed “fewer than 200 spaces in five rest areas.” Private lots, however, had “a little more than 1,000 spaces.” Along the route, you can see the rest areas from the road, but not so some of the truck stops.
Strategic placement of the signs in advance of the rest areas, also showing information for adjacent or nearby interchanges that have parking, helps drivers know their options.
TA Petro’s TruckSmart app offers users parking-availability information across the network, updated every two hours by staff at each location, Liutkus says. They’re the only one of the big three chains to have implemented such a system to date.
Grenerth believes availability information systems are “useful tools and a part of the solution” to the parking problem. However, “they’re only helpful when there really is parking” available.
A NATIONAL COALITION
The first meeting of the National Coalition on Truck Parking was Nov. 10. The agenda included the establishment of regional task forces to recommend actions to improve parking in each region.
Hope Rivenburg, widow of slain trucker Jason Rivenburg, the namesake of the Jason’s Law legislation, has pledged to bring truckers’ concerns to coalition meetings as they proceed regionally. Rivenburg has been at the front of the parking issue since her husband’s 2009 slaying at an abandoned facility near Orangeburg, S.C., where he was parked overnight.
“I plan on being at every meeting that is held,” says Rivenburg, who encourages Overdrive readers to network with her on Facebook to share ideas. When drivers experience a lack of parking, she says, “take a few minutes and jot down where and what time, and contact that state’s DOT: ‘You have x amount of spots and distribution centers here, and we can’t find a place to park. What can you do to help us?’ ”
The Jason’s Law parking study “gives us a good starting point,” Rivenburg says. “If you take the worst state with the biggest shortage of parking” and then “move on down the list,” meaningful change could occur, she says.
Grenerth says change will happen only if planners can get out of the traditional mindset. They need to explore “creative ways to deal with that NIMBY” (not in my backyard) issue, “ways we can present ourselves as a better neighbor, making sure people know the real and honest facts. We’re not talking about ‘the prostitutes and the drug dealers will show up’ and our supposed millions of ‘free hours to screw around.’ ”
Prior to moving to the Kansas City area last year, Grenerth’s northern Ohio area made “millions of dollars available for ‘brownfield’ sites to be redeveloped.” So-called brownfields are not only environmentally contaminated places such as Superfund sites but also simply dormant properties not generating tax revenue.
“You have a fully intact warehouse, so you probably have room for a heck of a lot of trucks around it. That could be an opportunity for what I will call almost a turnkey operation – lighting, electric, pavement in place. Throw up some drywall for a driver’s lounge – do a one-year, two-year lease to generate tax revenue for the local economy while they look for a long-term tenant. Get beyond the idea of the traditional truck stop model.”
Years ago, Rivenburg led protests of the closing of some New York rest areas, which since have reopened. “One driver said he just stopped to wish us luck, but then the media had done an interview with him. And he said, ‘Hope, I didn’t think my voice would count.’ But their voices do count. The drivers are the ones that face this every day, they know the ins and outs, where the problems are the worst. Without their help, we couldn’t be where we are.”
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