The Biden administration has vowed to tackle the trucking industry’s parking problem, and many in the industry are lauding the effort.
Ask any trucker, and you’re likely to be told that a lack of safe parking is high on their list of headaches while out on the road.
“It stinks,” said Barry “Bulldog” Jones, an Arkansas-based truck driver. He was filling up his Peterbilt on an early October morning at a small truck stop in Fordyce, Arkansas.
“I mean, when you get to some of these big cities, there just ain’t nowhere to shut down, especially if you are needing to shut down quickly,” he shared. “If you can’t do a little planning beforehand, you will end up parking on the side of the interstate somewhere. And that’s just not safe for anyone.”
There are currently 313,000 truck parking spaces nationally and approximately 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S., meaning that there is only one truck parking space for every 11 drivers, according to data from the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA).
In late September, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) convened state, industry, and federal leaders at a meeting of the National Coalition of Truck Parking to share resources available in the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to address the truck parking shortage.
DOT officials say the issue “puts all road users at risk and is costing truck drivers time and money.”
At the meeting, DOT representatives shared a new handbook for states that details strategies for developing truck parking and best practices for designing and constructing new truck parking facilities. Officials also discussed the new and expanded funding resources that are eligible for truck parking projects to make the nation’s freight system safer and more efficient.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he has heard directly from truck drivers and industry partners, and he is well aware that the availability of truck parking is a top concern for drivers.
“It costs them time and money — not to mention making our roads less safe and weakening our supply chains,” Buttigieg said. “We’re using funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help address truck parking shortages, and we’re working with state and industry leaders to develop more parking that will improve safety and quality of life for our nation’s truck drivers.”
Nussbaum Transportation Chief Administrative Officer Jeremy Strickling believes solving the issue will take some creative thinking.
“For real estate owners, there is little incentive to set up a big empty parking lot for truck drivers,” he explained. “So perhaps some public-private partnerships would make it worth the investment for those with private real estate. Rest areas are nice, but often nicer than they have to be. There could be some very cost-effective parking solutions.”
Strickling says his drivers have told him that all they want is an open space and a toilet.
“There’s no need for a jungle gym, picnic tables, and nice brick buildings,” he said. “I’d like to see simple, economical truck parking locations set up. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just practical.
“It seems like this approach would make parking easier to get off the ground, given there is less design and construction, and ongoing maintenance costs would be lower,” he continued. “Perhaps ask shippers of a certain size to set up a simple parking space for a number of trucks, based on the volume of truck traffic they take. Many already allow this and should be praised for it. But quite a few force trucks off their property after a pick-up or delivery.”
Kriska Transportation Group President and CEO Mark Seymour feels that a quick fix would include a rally among all stakeholders to make best use of infrastructure that’s available today.
“Open closed rest areas, open closed scale house lots, allow trucks to park in closed shopping center parking lots,” he said. “Medium term, encourage truck stops with available land to develop it into more parking through tax breaks or incentives. Long term, states and provinces need a strategic plan. Where it’s needed, what’s available, and allocate funds for development.”
The American Trucking Associations and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association wrote a letter to DOT earlier this year citing that 98% percent of drivers report problems finding safe parking, costing drivers more than 56 minutes of drive time to find parking each day. That wasted time is estimated to cause a $5,500 loss in annual compensation — roughly a 12% pay cut.
In September, for the first time ever, the DOT announced significant investments to expand the nation’s truck parking capacity on the interstate system through the Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight & Highway Projects program.
These first-of-their-kind investments include $15 million to add approximately 120 new truck parking spaces along the Interstate 4 corridor in Florida between Tampa and Orlando, and a $22.6 million investment to add approximately 125 spaces along Interstate 40 east of Nashville, Tennessee.
DOT officials say these projects will improve safety and freight operations, and make freight transportation more sustainable. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also awarded $1.4 million in grant funding to Montana and Kentucky to improve truck parking through its High Priority Innovative Technology Deployment grants.
“One of the leading causes of truck crashes is driver fatigue. It is clear that adequate rest for drivers is foundational for safe operations,” said FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson. “We have heard loud and clear from drivers — they need more places to rest, and they need to be safe and secure while doing so.
“We are proactively working at the local and regional level to point to the numerous resources across DOT for truck parking construction, expansion, and technology solutions, and we will continue to work collaboratively with agencies within DOT and with all of our partners in the industry,” she added.
Additionally, the DOT has updated guidance on the sources of federal funding that are eligible for states interested in making further investments in truck parking. States and other government entities can apply for grants or prioritize formula funding for capacity projects from more than $47.4 billion across eight programs.
“Truck parking is a safety issue — both for truck drivers and all other road users, which is why Federal Highway Administration has updated our guidance to ensure there is no question about eligibility for truck parking projects in new formula and discretionary grant programs authorized under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” noted FHWA Acting Administrator Stephanie Pollack.
“This new information will help states, localities, and other eligible entities identify eligible formula funding sources and apply for discretionary grants to fund truck parking projects that not only support the increased demand for truck deliveries and strengthen our supply chains, but also provide safe truck parking, which is critical to protect the truck drivers we rely on, as well as the traveling public,” she said.
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.