State seeks truck park­ing an­swers

It wants to know if it can, or should, help find a place for big rigs.

The Morning Call (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Short­ell

The rise of e-com­merce and overnight de­liv­ery has left Pennsylvania wrestling with a key ques­tion it doesn’t know how to answer — where on Earth can it put all these trac­tor-trail­ers?

Pen­nDOT is invit­ing pri­vate com­pa­nies to make pitches on how the state can part­ner with busi­nesses to ad­dress the is­sue.

Pennsylvania’s easy ac­cess to ma­jor cities on the East Coast has turned it into a ware­hous­ing and truck­ing mecca.

But by the state’s own ad­mis­sion, it hasn’t mas­tered the lo­gis­tics of host­ing the lo­gis­tics in­dus­try. A short­age of truck park­ing has cre­ated safety risks and dis­rupted traffic pat­terns.

In the Le­high Val­ley, truck­ers have lim­ited op­tions.

A small hand­ful of truck stops such as the Ban­dit Truck Stop off the New Smithville exit of In­ter­state 78 pro­vide truck­ers with food and ba­sic ameni­ties. If spots like that aren’t avail­able, truck­ers can make do in park­ing lots of friendly busi­nesses; Wal­mart gen­er­ally al­lows truck­ers to park overnight with­out is­sue.

Truck­ers who can’t reach those lo­ca­tions, how­ever, usu­ally wind up il­le­gally parked on high­way shoul­ders. Truck­ers can be found on the side of I-78, where they cre­ate safety hazards.

“Truck park­ing in Pennsylvania is lack­ing in avail­able ca­pac­ity, poorly lo­cated, or in­for­ma­tion about open spa­ces is un­re­li­able. Short­falls in park­ing ca­pac­ity in heav­ily trav­eled cor­ri­dors may ex­ceed triple the amount of avail­able park­ing spa­ces,” Pen­nDOT said in a re­quest for

in­for­ma­tion posted Nov. 20.

Pennsylvania hasn’t looked at the ex­tent of the prob­lem in a decade, but back then, it was ap­par­ent that some­thing had to be done.

A re­port by the Pennsylvania Trans­porta­tion Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee found the state had 11,500 truck-park­ing spots in pub­lic and pri­vate rest ar­eas, truck stops and ser­vice plazas in 2007, but 13,000 trucks re­quir­ing park­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions.

The need was even greater than the raw num­bers in­di­cate; some of those spots were not along ma­jor truck­ing cor­ri­dors, where the de­mand is greatest.

Based on those fig­ures, the state de­ter­mined 4,400 more park­ing spots were needed in 2007.

The de­mand is likely greater now due to the growth of of e-com­merce and the lo­gis­tics in­dus­try in and around Pennsylvania.

Trucks moved more than 867 mil­lions tons of goods through Pennsylvania high­ways in 2011, ac­cord­ing to Pen­nDOT. It es­ti­mates that num­ber will nearly dou­ble by 2040.

The 11-year-old re­port is the most re­cent data the state has on the truck park­ing short­age, said Michael Bonini, di­rec­tor of Pennsylvania’s pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship of­fice. State of­fi­cials know the prob­lem has grown worse over that time frame, but they don’t know to what ex­tent.

The state, Bonini said, is un­sure what role it should serve in find­ing a solution — if this is a mat­ter for the mar­ket to cor­rect or if the state needs to sub­si­dize an answer.

The open-ended RFI asks busi­nesses to spell out what roles need to be filled by gov­ern­ment, what re­spon­si­bil­i­ties be­long to pri­vate in­dus­tries and if the state should of­fer in­cen­tives to pri­vate groups to ad­dress the park­ing short­age.

“We’re try­ing to de­ter­mine what our role is from key stake­hold­ers who will re­spond to the RFI," Bonini said.

Re­sponses to the re­quest for in­for­ma­tion are due Dec. 12. The state had not re­ceived any re­sponses as of Fri­day, Bonini said.

Reg­u­la­tions com­pli­cat­ing park­ing short­age

Changes in how the gov­ern­ment tracks truck driv­ers’ time be­hind the wheel and how long they rest is also com­pli­cat­ing the park­ing is­sue. The reg­u­la­tions are in­tended to en­hance pub­lic safety by pre­vent­ing truck­ers from driving to or beyond the point of ex­haus­tion.

Start­ing last year, truck­ers were re­quired to use elec­tronic log de­vices to track their hours, rather than us­ing pen-and-pa­per log books. The logs are used to record how many hours a driver spends on the road and when they take man­dated breaks and rest stops.

The old log books worked in 15-minute in­cre­ments, al­low­ing truck­ers some grace pe­ri­ods to find park­ing. The self-re­port­ing na­ture also al­lowed less scrupu­lous driv­ers to fudge their travel times.

The new elec­tronic log de­vices au­to­mat­i­cally track when a trucker is driving, elim­i­nat­ing those grace pe­ri­ods when driv­ers could spend look­ing for park­ing. Vi­o­lat­ing the time re­stric­tions can re­sult in ex­pen­sive fines.

Dan Mur­ray, vice pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Truck­ing Re­search In­sti­tute — a non­profit branch of the truck­ing in­dus­try’s largest lob­by­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion — said the en­force­ment changes have placed a pre­mium on park­ing spots on or near ma­jor truck­ing routes.

But the high de­mand means there aren’t nearly enough of those to go around. Driv­ers who can’t find des­ig­nated spots to pull over can of­ten be found il­le­gally parked on high­way shoul­ders or ramps, cre­at­ing po­ten­tial safety hazards.

“We have data that shows 96.5 per­cent of driv­ers who are parked in unau­tho­rized spots are there be­cause they have no other le­gal spa­ces to park,” Mur­ray said.

The re­search in­sti­tute has found that na­tion­wide, truck driv­ers spend 56 min­utes look­ing for park­ing. Since most driv­ers are paid for ev­ery mile they travel to­ward their des­ti­na­tion, los­ing nearly an hour look­ing for park­ing could put a se­ri­ous dent in their earn­ings, Mur­ray said. Ide­ally, driv­ers are look­ing for park­ing spots be­tween 10 and 30 miles from their routes, he said.

“With no ac­tion, this prob­lem will only in­crease, plac­ing the com­mer­cial driv­ers at fur­ther risk to park at un­safe lo­ca­tions or con­tinue to drive beyond their daily lim­its to find rep­utable park­ing but plac­ing the truck driv­ers at risk as well as other ve­hi­cles on the road­way,” the RFI stated.

Mur­ray didn’t dis­pute the need for ac­tion, but ques­tioned whether a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship was the right ap­proach.

The state needs to con­duct more re­search, study the un­der­ly­ing is­sues and iden­tify prob­lem cor­ri­dors and re­gions, he said. Once that’s done, the state can seek out pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships ad­dress­ing spe­cific prob­lems.

“The pri­vate sec­tor and pub­lic sec­tor are al­ready do­ing ev­ery­thing they can. I’m not con­fi­dent there’s a third en­tity that can come in and suc­cess­fully man­age pub­lic rest stops,” he said.

Park­ing in­creas­ingly a prob­lem in the Le­high Val­ley

Due to its lo­ca­tion near New York City, Philadel­phia and the In­ter­state 95 cor­ri­dor, the Le­high Val­ley has be­come a ma­jor ware­house and dis­tri­bu­tion hub in re­cent years.

The trans­porta­tion and ware­hous­ing in­dus­tries now ac­count for about 8.4 per­cent of em­ploy­ment in the Le­high Val­ley, ac­cord­ing to data from the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics, and more ware­house de­vel­op­ments are still in the works.

While the need for truck park­ing is gen­er­ally ac­knowl­edged, few com­mu­ni­ties want to host them.

Al­len­town, for ex­am­ple, bars Class 5 ve­hi­cles such as trac­tor­trail­ers from park­ing on al­most all city streets.

While mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties can­not legally re­ject a busi­ness pro­posal that meets the zon­ing re­quire­ments of a prop­erty, res­i­dents of­ten op­pose truck park­ing de­vel­op­ments be­cause of fears they will cre­ate traffic and harm sur­round­ing prop­erty val­ues.

The topic of truck park­ing was a cen­tral dis­cus­sion at the East­ern Pennsylvania Freight Sum­mit, a con­fer­ence hosted by the Le­high Val­ley Plan­ning Com­mis­sion in June.

At the meet­ing, busi­ness lead­ers ac­knowl­edged the need, but ar­gued there was lit­tle in­cen­tive for them to step up. Cre­at­ing park­ing spots for 100 trac­tor­trail­ers would re­quire dozens of acres of land, mak­ing the pro­ject cost pro­hib­i­tive due to steep land prices up and down the East Coast.

Oth­ers ar­gued that lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and plan­ning com­mis­sions needed to take the lead, re­quir­ing de­vel­op­ers to pro­vide ex­tra park­ing spots for the truck­ers de­liv­er­ing goods to and from their fa­cil­i­ties.

The Le­high Val­ley Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and some town­ships have adopted a pol­icy re­quir­ing de­vel­op­ers to in­clude ex­tra truck park­ing on their devel­op­ment plans.

Of­ten­times, truck­ers are re­quired to leave a ware­house prop­erty if it’s not their time to drop off or load cargo be­cause of the lack of avail­able spa­ces.

In Lower Ma­cungie Town­ship, of­fi­cials are con­sid­er­ing strength­en­ing their pol­icy by re­quir­ing de­vel­op­ers not only pro­vide ex­tra spa­ces, but elec­tric hookups so truck­ers won’t have to run their en­gines to stay warm overnight, said Sara Pandl, town­ship plan­ning and devel­op­ment di­rec­tor.

How­ever, any new truck park­ing poli­cies don’t re­quire changes for ex­ist­ing ware­houses or dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters.

MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

Truck­ers typ­i­cally look for park­ing 10-30 miles from their routes, but Pennsylvania doesn’t have enough le­gal spots for them.

MON­ICA CABR­ERA/MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

Ban­dit Truck Stop off the New Smithville exit of In­ter­state 78 pro­vides food and ba­sic ameni­ties to truck­ers.

MORN­ING CALL FILE PHOTO

Many Le­high Val­ley com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing Em­maus, have taken steps to pre­vent truck­ers from park­ing along streets.

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