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The Indiana Department of Transportation launched a temporary permit program to allow licensed food trucks to operate at highway rest areas in order to serve commercial motor vehicle drivers who are hauling supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.
The program, which INDOT announced April 8, is meant to expand truckers’ reliable food and beverage options along Indiana interstates. With restaurants closing due to the pandemic, truck drivers in many cases are finding limited availability of food options.
“We’re hearing, as other state [departments of transportation] are, that truckers are encountering fewer dining options than normal with the public health guidelines in place to fight COVID-19,” INDOT spokesman Scott Manning said. “With restaurants closing dining rooms and going drive-thru only, obviously that is not conducive to large trucks.”
INDOT will issue two permits for food trucks to operate at each of the agency’s 28 rest area locations. The permits will be issued on a first-come, first served basis. The trucks will be allowed to operate between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day.
Permits will be valid until canceled by INDOT or until the national emergency status is lifted. Interested participants must include proof of a current liability insurance policy, registration documents and a valid operating permit from the Indiana State Department of Health in their applications. INDOT is accepting applications immediately.
The program was announced shortly after the Federal Highway Administration issued a Notice of Enforcement Discretion to state departments of transportation saying that the agency will allow food trucks at federally funded interstate highway rest areas to support truck drivers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Have a food truck and want to do your part to help stop COVID-19? Apply for a permit to set up at our rest areas for truck drivers who are unable to access food elsewhere. Learn more & apply: https://t.co/d4TtztXNYk pic.twitter.com/wFLQz2C0wY— INDOT (@INDOT) April 8, 2020
“America’s commercial truck drivers are working day and night during this pandemic to ensure critical relief supplies are being delivered to our communities,” FHWA Administrator Nicole Nason said in the agency’s April 3 announcement. “It is critical to make sure truck drivers continue to have access to food services while they’re on the job serving our nation during these challenging times.”
With several major interstates crisscrossing through it, Indiana is a key state for freight movement. Interstates 65 and 69 cut diagonally across the state, both passing through Indianapolis. Interstates 70 and 74 move east-west through the state and also cross through Indianapolis.
The rest areas that are included in the program lie along many of Indiana’s major routes, including interstates 64, 65, 69, 70, 74 and 94.
Additionally, Manning noted that a significant number of freight and logistics firms are either headquartered or maintain operations in Indiana.
“As the state DOT, when we learned of the FHWA guidance, we thought Indiana, given our freight traffic volumes, should take advantage of the opportunity to offer options to help support the trucking industry,” Manning said.
A coalition of groups representing food service businesses sent a letter to FHWA on April 8 urging the agency to help keep food establishments open for truck drivers. The coalition is comprised of 11 groups, including Natso, the National Restaurant Association, the National Automatic Merchandising Association and the National Association of Convenience Stores.
Although the coalition did not ask FHWA to withdraw the Notice of Enforcement Discretion, it recommended that food trucks only operate at rest areas where there are no other food options nearby.
“If there are places where truck drivers are finding it difficult to find something to eat, we don’t oppose food trucks at rest areas. This is a national emergency, and we need to explore unconventional solutions,” Natso President Lisa Mullings said. “But if food trucks at a rest area hurt local businesses that are already struggling to remain open, professional drivers ultimately will have even more difficulty finding places to eat. They will have fewer food choices if these businesses close, and they will struggle to find showers and parking, too.”
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