One trip down Interstate 80 in Iowa and you’ll quickly notice how much large truck traffic traverses our state. With the anticipated increase in the amount of freight shipped over the road, the need to better communicate information critical to driver success is driving a regional study on development of a truck parking information management system.
A recent $25 million federal grant is helping eight Midwest states develop a regional truck parking information and management system. The states of Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin are working together to find a solution that gets parking information to truckers in a timely and useful way.
Why is truck parking information so important? Commercial drivers are under strict federal regulations on the number of hours they can be behind the wheel and the number of hours they need to park their rigs. We all know how tiring it can be to be behind the wheel. Imagine how much more intense the driving experience is for commercial drivers. The hours of driving rules are in place to make sure drivers get the rest they need to operate their vehicles safely. With Iowa’s rest areas regularly at 150 percent of capacity for large trucks, finding adequate parking can often eat up valuable time that can potentially drive up the cost of goods shipped and pose an issue for a driver who has come to the end of the allotted driving hours.
Phil Mescher, with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Systems Planning, is working on Iowa’s portion of the study with Steve McMenamin, the Iowa DOT’s rest area administrator in the Office of Maintenance, and Mike Jackson, with the Iowa DOT’s Office of Traffic Operations. Mescher said, “The Michigan DOT was instrumental in drafting the grant proposal and now the Kansas DOT has taken the lead to manage the grant for our regional study. We’re all working together to find information solutions that work for each individual state, but also integrate between states.”
In Iowa, the team working on the study is looking to make truck parking information available in a variety of ways. McMenamin said, “Our wish list is that trucks won’t have to stop to get this information. But we need to provide it in a way that will not be a distraction to the driver. We’re looking at the possibility of working with dispatchers or some sort of in-cab system.”
Mescher says the goal of Iowa’s effort is to include both public and private truck parking locations. He said, “Our initial pilot is planned for I-80 between Des Moines and the Quad Cities. For that area, there are 14 rest areas and 10 private truck stops. We’re working to coordinate the study with those private companies. This is a common problem we would all like to solve.”
Some states are already experimenting with elements of a system. In Michigan, they have sensors at their rest areas and signs on the interstate that indicate to drivers how many spaces are available. McMenamin says that system has some merit, but it may not as helpful as it could be. “We are looking at a system to tell drivers in advance where there are parking spots available. That’s a challenge because if the driver is 30 minutes away, a spot might be available now, but taken by the time the driver gets to that location.”
Here’s a video about the program Michigan has implemented its system.