Big Rigs: Numbers Growing: Parking sparse for truckers

Commercial truck traffic is growing in the United States, and so is the shortage of legal parking spaces for the 80,000-pound tractor-trailer rigs, industry officials say.
Executives at the American Trucking Associations in Alexandria, Va., the Oklahoma Trucking Association and the Arkansas Trucking Association said truck traffic has increased to the point that commercial truck plazas, truck stops and rest areas no longer have the capacity to handle it.

As a result, officials said, when commercial drivers reach their legal limit of 14 consecutive hours of driving, they are parking their rigs along roadway shoulders, at weigh stations and inspection stations and along entrance and exit ramps to freeways and rest areas.

"It's causing problems," said Dan Case, executive director of the Oklahoma Trucking Association. "We can't continue to have trucks parked on the entrance and exit lanes of truck plazas or on the entrance and exit ramps of the interstates. Something has to be done about it."

The American Trucking Associations' survey of Class 8 commercial trucks found 2.8 million registered in 2005, the latest year for which data is available. The total is up 7.7 percent from 2001 and an 86.6 percent increase from the 1.5 million

Class 8 trucks on the road in 1994. Class 8 trucks weigh at least 33,000 pounds.

Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations, said more commercial trucks are parking along roadways and ramps because the existing rest areas and truck plazas can't handle the increased traffic.

"It's simply because our economy is growing and trucking is by far the largest mode of freight transportation in the United States," Costello said. "Trucks handle 70 percent of the freight in this country, whether it is factories to warehouses or warehouses to retailer -- and everything in between."

A snapshot of the problem is told by a Tulsa couple who drive commercially for PDQ Express, a privately held long-haul trucking company based in Grove City, Ohio.

Typically, O.J. Broussard drives Tuesday through Saturday and is off Sunday and Monday, said his wife, Rhonda. When they aren't driving, the Broussards have been parking their rig at the Flying J Travel Plaza, 27 N. 129th East Ave.

The Flying J, however, no longer permits drivers to park their rigs unoccupied at the plaza for more than four hours.

"We have space for 185 trucks," said Flying J General Manager Joe Tedesco. "We're at full occupancy at all times, and at night it gets chaotic. We have 24 (gas) pumps and they're full all the time.

"We don't permit dropped trailers. Drivers can park here but they have to be sleeping within their trucks."

That leaves the Broussards with no place to park their truck when they are not driving.

The city of Tulsa traffic code prohibits trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds or wider than 90 inches to park on city streets at night.

The truck parking problem was documented in a 2006 survey by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. The survey followed a 2003 survey of trucks parked at night midweek along roadways, ramps and interchanges and at closed rest areas, weigh stations and inspection stations along Arkansas' 655 miles of interstate highways.

"In 2006, visual observations of parking along interstate routes gave reason to believe that conditions had changed or worsened because of the greater number of trucks that appeared to be parking on the shoulders along the main lanes and interchanges, and at closed rest areas, weigh stations and inspection stations," the Arkansas highway department study found.

"The total number of truck parking spaces available during the 2006 survey period changed very little from the 2003 survey. However, a significant change was recorded in the number of trucks that were parked during the 2006 survey period. The 31 percent increase in the number of trucks that were parked during the survey can be attributed to the overall increase in the numbers of trucks and to "time in service" rule changes that were implemented nationally since 2003."

In 2003, federal Hours of Service rules permitted drivers to be on duty for 15 hours, including 10 hours of driving, after being off duty for eight hours. New federal rules, implemented in 2005, allow drivers to be on duty for 14 hours, including 11 hours of driving, after 10 hours off duty. The 10 hours off duty must include one period of at least eight hours, federal rules say.

"Therefore, truck drivers can now drive for one additional hour but must remain parked for a longer period of time compared to 2003," the Arkansas highway department study said.

"It amounts to a higher volume of truck traffic and a worsening shortage of truck parking spaces," said Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association in Little Rock.

"Drivers are legally bound to stop driving if they have reached their maximum hours. But there are fewer truck parking spaces where drivers can pull over. So they have to stop on the road somewhere."

Costello, the economist for the American Trucking Associations, said the situation is projected to worsen.

"By 2011, we expect the number of trucks on the road to be 3.4 million," Costello said. "By 2017, the numbers will be close to 3.8 million."

If the projections are accurate, commercial truck traffic will grow 21.4 percent in the next four years and 35.7 percent in the next decade.
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