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May 11, 2009 3:45 AM, EDT
Bill Would Offer Federal Grants to Create Truck Parking Spaces
‘Jason’s Law’ Honors Driver Killed in Parked Rig
By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the May 11 print edition of Transport Topics.

A new legislative proposal would provide $20 million in each of the next six years for a pilot program designed to generate more truck parking spaces across the country.

The House bill would allow state and local governments, truck stops and even shippers to obtain federal grants to build parking spaces or install safety improvements, such as lighting and cameras, said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the bill’s sponsor.

Tonko said an implication of the federal hours-of-service regulations for commercial drivers is that it is necessary to make “accessible the parking areas that are essential for our nation’s truckers.”

He said his proposal would fund six years of safe parking investments that then would be evaluated to determine which work best. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate on May 5.

American Trucking Associations “supports this critical legislation and urges quick action in Congress,” ATA President Bill Graves said in a May 6 statement. “The parking shortage for commercial motor vehicles compromises the safety of drivers out on the road and requires a comprehensive solution involving all interested parties.”

A 2002 study by the Federal Highway Administration found 35 states had shortages of truck parking. Except for California, most of the states with shortages were in the Northeast and the Midwest.

The 2005 federal highway act that expires this year has a similar provision, offering $25 million to fund truck parking pilot programs, but last year, the Department of Transportation limited the use of those funds to routes in its Corridors of the Future program.

The new House bill has been dubbed “Jason’s Law” after Jason Rivenburg, a trucker from Fultonham, in rural Schoharie County, N.Y. He was shot to death in March after he pulled off Interstate 26 in South Carolina to spend the night at an abandoned gas station, the only parking available in the area.

The bills were welcomed by state trucking leaders wrestling with parking shortages.

“It shouldn’t take people dying to get truck parking,” said Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association.

The New Jersey Turnpike has truck parking and allows 10-hour layovers, Toth said, but other parts of the state have no parking.

“We have a shortage of 1,200 a night and that’s common in the whole Northeast,” Toth said. Land costs there, she said, make it impossible for truck stops to locate or ex-pand along interstate highways.

In its statement supporting the legislation, ATA said the bills would promote “the availability of publicly or privately provided commercial motor vehicle parking on the National Highway System.”

Commercial facilities on interstates are opposed by Natso Inc., a trade association for truck stop operators, and often by towns dependent on privately owned rest stops for jobs and tax revenues.

Natso spokeswoman Christine Schoessler said of the legislation, “We want to offer our support to our members’ customers, Sen. Schumer, Congressman Tonko and others to make sure drivers have access to and information about safe, legal truck parking.”

Demand for spaces in Illinois long ago outstripped supply, said George Billows, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association. When it was built, the state tollway included truck stops and parking, he said, but the number is limited.

“Eighteen to . . . 22 parking spots, that’s it and they fill up immediately,” he said. Then, trucks line up along the ramps and the shoulders, he said, adding, “It’s incredibly unsafe.”

The Tonko-Schumer legislation is well-intentioned but inadequate, Billows said.

“You couldn’t go in here and build a 10-acre truck parking area for . . . $20 million . . . when you talk about the price of land and the zoning requirements,” he said.

He suggested a partial solution: overnight parking at either end of the state toll road in farm areas where land costs less.

Despite the parking shortage, budget crunches are forcing states to shutter highway rest stops with parking. Virginia may close more than half of its rest stops and, with them, more than half of the state-owned parking spaces for truckers (3-16, p. 14).

In other states, development is endangering additional truck parking spaces. California trucking officials said one of only two truck stops between San Francisco and Reno, Nev., disappeared when the owner sold out to a large retail store.

Kendra Adams, executive director of the New York State Motor Truck Association, said shippers and receivers should consider providing spaces to truckers.

“If you look at what happened to Jason,” Adams said, “he wasn’t too far away from where he was to deliver, but . . . he was early so he couldn’t get in.”

Jason Rivenburg was shot through the window of his truck at a spot frequented by resting drivers, said his father-in-law, Carl Savage of Fultonham, N.Y., a retired trucker.