Truck parking shortage worsens; new study notes systems issues

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 3,257 views 

A lack of national standards on technology and systems that show truck parking availability might contribute to driver distrust of them and confusion, according to new research. Meanwhile, the trucking industry continues to struggle with a truck parking shortage as freight demand surges.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the research organization of American Trucking Associations, recently released research on how truck drivers use truck parking availability systems and their perspectives on how truck parking information is distributed.

“This new research on driver issues and preferences toward truck parking information systems is hopefully a first step in developing a national driver-centric system, built on clear standards and approaches,” said Bill Hambrick, truck driver for Werner Enterprises and an America’s Road Team Captain.

The research is based on a survey of more than 1,100 truck drivers and conceptualized by ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee through their recognition that the numerous truck parking information systems being developed by public sector agencies are often based on disparate technologies and information distribution channels. The lack of national standards “may be creating confusion and distrust of these potentially invaluable systems,” according to the committee.

In 2020, truck parking was the No. 3 issue on ATRI’s list of top industry issues, behind the driver shortage and driver pay. The truck parking issue rose two spots on the list from 2019 and worsened amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In a joint research initiative between ATRI and the OOIDA Foundation, 44% of respondents said truck parking was “somewhat harder” or “much harder” to find during the pandemic. However, while some states were closing rest areas, others were initiating projects to expand parking availability along key truck routes.

Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said through grants from the Arkansas Commercial Truck Safety and Education Program, the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) has converted some truck inspection sites to provide additional parking. Also, Newton expects funding later this year to expand truck parking at the White River Tourist Information Center.

“We have worked closely with ArDOT and the Arkansas Highway Police to emphasize the urgent need for safe truck parking, especially in the wake of surging freight demand stirred by the pandemic and now complications from the Memphis bridge closure,” Newton said. “We have urged them to keep truck parking open and rest areas accessible wherever possible.”

Newton previously estimated the closure of the Interstate 40 bridge spanning the Mississippi River costs the trucking industry $2.4 million per day. The Hernando de Soto Bridge closed May 11 after a mechanical fracture was discovered during a routine inspection.

Meanwhile, the lack of available truck parking is affecting truck driver pay and efficiency. According to the American Trucking Associations, time spent looking for available truck parking costs the average driver about $5,500, or a 12% cut in annual pay. Truck drivers give up an average of 56 minutes of available drive time per day to park early rather than risking not being able to find parking down the road, Newton said.

“The truck parking shortage has been impacting the industry for decades and has only continued to worsen as demand for trucking increases,” Newton said. “Professional drivers must adhere to strict hours-of-service regulations that ensure they are rested and road-ready. Lack of available parking puts drivers in a very precarious position: They are forced to operate illegally until they find safe parking; park in an unsafe or illegal location, which may put themselves or other motorists at risk; or, as happens most frequently, stop driving before they otherwise would, wasting time and money.

“Providing ample truck parking makes it easier for drivers to get rest when they need it, and then get back on the road to safely deliver America’s freight,” Newton added. “For the roughly 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S., there are only about 313,000 trucking spaces. In Arkansas, the issue is pervasive with only 66-83 parking spaces per 100,000 daily truck vehicle miles traveled, according to the Federal Highway Administration.”

Newton explained the worst area for the lack of available truck parking in Arkansas has historically been the stretch of Interstate 30 between Little Rock and Texarkana. But with the I-40 bridge closure in Memphis, she said drivers are spending hours in congestion, and are trying to avoid taking rest breaks in the previously popular West Memphis area. “So more recently, the span of I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis has essentially become a giant rest area for truck drivers,” Newton said.

The I-40 bridge carried about 40,000 vehicles per day, and about 12,500 were commercial trucks. Traffic has been diverted to the Interstate 55 bridge spanning the Mississippi River and is about 3 miles south of the I-40 bridge. The I-55 bridge carried about 55,000 vehicles per day, including about 14,000 commercial trucks, according to Newton.

She also noted a federal bill that’s gaining traction would use existing highway funds for projects to expand truck parking capacity. It’s the bipartisan Truck Parking Safety Improvement Act.

“Not only should a healthy highway system ensure vehicles are able to safely and continuously move, but it should also provide places for commercial trucks to safely stop,” she added.