State seeks truck parking answers
It wants to know if it can, or should, help find a place for big rigs.
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.
Truckers typically look for parking 10-30 miles from their routes, but Pennsylvania doesn’t have enough legal spots for them.
Bandit Truck Stop off the New Smithville exit of Interstate 78 provides food and basic amenities to truckers.
Many Lehigh Valley communities, including Emmaus, have taken steps to prevent truckers from parking along streets.