Store shelves are filled with anything and everything you could need or want. Getting those items to the store, and eventually to you, takes a massive transportation system that includes moving freight on our highways in trucks.
To improve highway safety, drivers of those trucks are bound by federal rules to a limited number of hours behind the wheel. When a driver nears the limit on hours, finding safe and convenient parking has become difficult due to the enormous number of trucks on the road.
Phil Mescher, a transportation planner with the Iowa Department of Transportation, said, “A recent survey revealed that 83 percent of commercial drivers spend more than 30 minutes searching for parking. We know that here in Iowa, our rest areas are overfilled most nights and trucks end up parked on the ramp shoulder. It’s unfortunate and dangerous, but truck drivers have limited information to find available parking.”
There are some people who suggest building more spaces would solve the problem. But Mescher says that solution is costly and likely would ease, but not eliminate the issue. He said, “There are open spaces out there, the problem is there is not an accurate real-time system to let drivers find those spots when they are needed.”
Our staff, as part of a group of eight Midwestern state DOTs, has proposed a better system to inform truck drivers of the availability of parking near them. Mescher said, “In understanding how goods are transported, it makes sense to take a broader, regional approach. The states involved in this project are Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.”
This group of states applied for a federal grant focused on technology to provide real-time data on parking availability at both public rest areas and private truck stops.
The costs associated with the lack of truck parking is significant. Research shows that for every 15 minutes truck drivers across the country search for parking, it costs the economy $4.4 billion.
While each state is working on an individual plan to inform drivers of available truck parking locations, the group’s goal is for each of these systems to interconnect through a Truck Parking Information and Management System (TPIMS) providing reliable information for drivers to have access to safe truck parking information across the region. Mescher said, “In Iowa, we are looking to use intelligent transportation systems technology like pavement sensors, cameras, and radar to detect open parking spaces and then make that data available in-cab to drivers, either on their existing routing systems or by a hands-free smart phone app that is compliant with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s safety rules. The information will also be made available through Iowa’s 511 page. Having systems in place that can be easily accessed by truck drivers will help them better manage their hours of service.”
While the Iowa system will collect the data, we will not directly provide the in-cab applications to drivers. Mescher said, “We see our role in this project as providing the data feed so it can be consumed by third-party applications. Companies can then use this data to get real-time information to drivers through their own systems or a third-party app provider.
The eight DOTs involved in this project expect the project will result in reliable access to safe truck parking information with a reduction in overcrowding at rest areas and truck stops. It will also improve safety for all travelers with decreased unsafe commercial vehicle parking on ramp shoulders and reduced maintenance on those ramp shoulders due to damage from illegal parking.
Iowa’s portion of the project will focus initially on Interstate 80 from border to border. Mescher said a vendor for the project was recently selected and the system is expected to be implemented and in a testing phase by fall 2018. The anticipated date for Iowa’s system to be complete is Jan. 4, 2019, and it will continue operations for three years.
“Once the system is up and running, we’ll be evaluating how it can be improved in the future,” said Mescher. “All eight states are working together, so there will be many different options to look at and use to enhance the systems in the region.”