August 16, 2017 10:15 AM, EDT

Iowa DOT to Install System to Help Truck Drivers Find Parking Along I-80

parking truck stop John Sommers II for Transport Topics

By 2019, rest areas along Iowa’s busy Interstate 80 freight route will be equipped with technology to help truck drivers traveling the highway to track parking availability, according to the state’s Department of Transportation.

Iowa DOT included a chapter on automated corridors in its July I-80 planning study to assess how automated vehicle technology can address safety issues; chief among them is helping truck drivers find parking. The agency is working with its fellow Midwestern states to develop a “smart” truck parking system along I-80, an east-west freight corridor that runs from San Francisco to Teaneck, N.J. The project for the 300-mile Iowa section involves the installation of devices in rest areas that scan for vacant spots, as well as mobile applications that give drivers the location of available spaces.

Scott Marler, director of traffic operations for Iowa DOT, said the agency’s goal is to have the scanning technology deployed and the applications widely adopted by 2019.

“What we’re trying to do is build a system where we understand the parking at public rest areas as well as private truck stops,” Marler said. “We want to equip rest areas with technology allowing them to see what spaces are available. We also want to encourage private entities to collect our data feed and to publish that information in their own systems to get the information out across a broad spectrum.”

Iowa DOT plans to install truck parking technology at 21 public rest areas and at least 16 private truck stops along I-80. Iowa has 23 public rest areas along I-81. Iowa DOT has issued a Request for Proposals to gather feedback on different technologies, such as laser counters and video analytics, for the public rest areas.

Private rest areas also represent an important resource, Marler said, noting that a public rest area can offer 100 truck spaces, but a private truck stop can have well over 1,000 spaces.

“We’re really hopeful this mobile application will help to illustrate the thousands of spaces available in the private system,” he said. “We believe that to be a really key part of this equation because that’s where the parking is.”

Iowa DOT encourages drivers to use hands-free applications, such as Iowa 511, which provides commercial drivers with traffic updates, he said. Although Iowa DOT is not requiring drivers to use a specific application, he said that hands-free systems that speak to drivers are optimal.

“Drivers can’t open a lot of apps. We need a unified approach,” Marler said. “Obviously, safety is first for us. We don’t want commercial drivers using phones while driving. One of the key aspects of this is that any notifications to drivers will need to be done in a hands-free kind of way.”

I-80 is a popular corridor for freight traffic in Iowa. In 2014, the state’s western portion carried 8,200 trucks per day, but the eastern portion carried 12,000 trucks per day. This truck traffic represents 30-40% of the state’s total traffic volume, according to Iowa DOT. By 2040, Iowa DOT projects truck traffic will grow to 12,000 trucks per day on the western segment of I-80 and 24,000 trucks per day on the eastern segment.

“At certain times of the week, Interstate 80 is almost bumper-to-bumper with trucks,” said Brenda Neville, CEO of the Iowa Motor Truck Association. “We are getting more and more complaints on a regular basis from motorists as well as the trucking industry about Interstate 80 and the perceived congestion. We’re definitely supportive of anything that can help with the parking issue.”

Truck parking availability is an important issue for the industry as a whole, not just truck operators in Iowa. The American Transportation Research Institute’s annual survey, “Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry,” revealed that truck parking was the industry’s fourth most pressing issue in 2016. ATRI’s 2017 survey, launched Aug. 15, will be published in October.

“It puts commercial drivers at risk. When there isn’t enough parking, drivers are forced to either park along the shoulders or ramps, which is unsafe for them and unsafe for other motorists,” said ATRI President Rebecca Brewster. “Any time a driver isn’t provided an opportunity for rest, that’s a concern, whether it’s driven by parking or some other cause. Drivers want to get rest and are federally required to get rest, and there just aren’t enough places for them to do that.”