Finding a straight answer about why Congress can’t come to an agreement on legislation to fund improvements for the nation’s infrastructure is just about as difficult as finding a safe parking spot for a big rig.
A lack of parking is one of the biggest issues facing the trucking industry today, but there is nothing in the current iteration of trillion-dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that would improve it.
President Joe Biden has said the United States must rebuild its infrastructure to withstand the world’s new era of ever-strengthening natural disasters. And, in doing so, the country must also address global warming, which, Biden said, is creating stronger storms, wildfires, and other dangers that contribute to deteriorating infrastructure.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised several different dates for a vote on the infrastructure bill, but all have come and gone. The Senate approved its version over the summer.
A House vote was set for the bill at the end of September, but that didn’t happen because a consensus on the corresponding multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation bill has yet to be reached. Democrats said the postponement was only a temporary setback.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the issue on October 8.
“A great deal of progress has been made this week, and we are closer to an agreement than ever,” she told reporters. “But we are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time to finish the work.”
Of particular interest to the trucking industry would be the $110 million allotted for bridge and road improvements. But truck drivers are clear on what they need most — more parking.
Erb Group’s President and CEO Wendell Erb said he still holds his commercial driver’s license and has made 15 trips from Canada into the U.S. and back over the past few months. Erb is a Canada-based transportation company with terminals in the United States.
Parking in the United States is always a headache, according to Erb, who said he tries to find “mom and pop” truck stops because they are usually less busy.
“While state rest areas are great and appreciated, they are not the place a driver wants to spend 10 hours off duty. All you have is a washroom and vending machines,” he explained. “My recommendation would be federal funds/grants to be allocated to privately owned truck stops to expand overnight truck parking.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said truck parking is a long, hard-fought-for issue.
“Despite the long history of broad, bipartisan support, numerous government studies and repeated pleas from truck drivers, Democrats on the (House Transportation and Infrastructure) Committee opposed efforts to address trucking’s No. 1 safety concern, the lack of safe parking,” said OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer said.
“Truckers likely face another five years of a worsening crisis that jeopardizes their safety on a daily basis,” he noted.
Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) Vice President of Government Affairs David Heller said TCA isn’t pleased with the bill, either.
“Truck parking is priority No. 1 for most truckers out there,” he said, adding that passing a bill that would make parking easier for big rigs “would go a long way toward making the life of a trucker better. We will continue talking about this issue. Our day will come.”
Some in Washington have tried to push legislation that would have dealt with the parking issue.
United States Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) introduced an amended bill to the House earlier this year that would have addressed truck parking, but it failed.
Bost blamed Democrats.
“Growing up in a family trucking business, I am all too familiar with the shortage of safe truck parking options along our nation’s highways,” Bost wrote in an e-mailed statement.
“This is not only a safety concern for truckers, but also for the commuters who share the road with them,” he continued. “I have offered commonsense amendments three times in the House to provide funding to address this problem, and the Democrat majority has blocked them each time.”
Bost added: “They have paid lip service to America’s trucking community and claimed to understand their concerns; yet this $3.5 trillion bill includes zero funding for truck parking. Not a penny. It just goes to show that they don’t care about this problem at all.”
Biden, who has on many whistle-stop tours touted the infrastructure bill, hasn’t mentioned anything about the truck parking issue. His main talking points are that the infrastructure bill includes projects to help reduce greenhouse gasses and make America’s infrastructure stronger so that it can hold up to ever-worsening weather.
More specifically, the bill includes:
- $10 billion to support access to affordable housing and enhance mobility for low-income individuals and residents of disadvantaged or persistent poverty communities.
- $4 billion for reduction of carbon pollution in the surface transportation sector — addressing the largest source of transportation greenhouse gas emissions.
- $4 billion to support neighborhood equity, safety, and affordable transportation access, including reconnecting communities divided by existing infrastructure barriers.
- $6 billion to advance local surface transportation projects.
- $1 billion to the Department of Transportation to support projects that develop, demonstrate, or apply low-emission technologies or produce, transport, blend, or store sustainable aviation fuels.
- $500 million to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) hazard mitigation revolving loan fund program; $425 million for grants for the construction, retrofit, technological enhancement, and updated planning requirements of state, local, Tribal, and territorial emergency operation centers.
- $9.5 billion to the Economic Development Administration to provide investments in persistently distressed communities, provide assistance to energy and industrial transition communities, invest in public works projects, and create regional hubs.•
- $1 billion for climate-resilient Coast Guard infrastructure.
- $2.5 billion to the Maritime Administration to support more sustainable port infrastructure and supply chain resilience.
For now, the bill remains in limbo, and truck parking is stalled as a back-burner issue in Washington. As of this writing, no one is sure when — or if — a vote will take place.
“Addressing the parking shortage would also have supported efforts to reduce carbon emission from the transportation sector,” added OOIDA’s Spencer.
“Truck drivers waste approximately 56 minutes per day looking for parking, all the while needlessly burning fuel, emitting carbon and contributing to congestion,” he stated. “It’s tough to swallow the fact that in a year when Congress is authorizing hundreds of billions of dollars for infrastructure projects and highway safety programs, not a single penny was set aside for truck parking.”
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.