While the growing presence of tractor-trailers has been a complaint of Lehigh Valley, Pa., residents in recent years, local planners are concerned with the one place they’re not seeing them — designated truck parking spots.
In the past decade, the Lehigh Valley has seen enormous warehouses spring up to accommodate the growing demand for online retail and overnight delivery. Logistics hubs for Walmart and Amazon.com have moved into warehouses of more than a million square feet in the Lehigh Valley, and FedEx Ground is finishing up a similar-size facility in Allen Township that will be the company’s largest warehouse. The transportation and warehousing industries account for about 8.4% of employment in the Lehigh Valley, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the surge in those industries comes with unplanned consequences. Aside from additional congestion and the deterioration of highways, truckers are increasingly finding nowhere to park their trucks for their mandatory breaks. In other cases, truckers find themselves with time to kill until they can unload their cargo, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Executive Director Becky Bradley said.
“Trucks arrive early, but the companies won’t let them onto the lot,” Bradley said.
Parking shortages aren’t unique to the Lehigh Valley. On June 21, LVPC hosted the Eastern Pennsylvania Freight Summit, an all-day event featuring speakers from the federal government, PennDOT, the Port of Philadelphia and Norfolk Southern. While the group discussed local and national trends in freight, the crowd of more than 200 people became most engaged in a panel on truck parking shortages.
“In cities both large and small, truck deliveries is something we need to start thinking about,” said Barry Seymour, who as executive director of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission oversees transportation planning in the greater Philadelphia area.
Federal data from 2014 shows Pennsylvania ranks eighth in the nation for truck parking with 10,932 spots, but the national surge in e-commerce and growth in new markets such as the Lehigh Valley mean those spots may not be enough or in the right locations.
The problem has been compounded by the industry’s recent switch to electronic logging devices, which keep up-to-the-second records of when tractor-trailers are on the road. The federal government has strict rules on how long truckers can be behind the wheel, and the electronic records now remove drivers’ abilities to fudge the numbers. As a result, truckers who find themselves stuck in unexpected delays may be unable to reach parking spots they may have targeted hours or days earlier, said Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association President Kevin Stewart, one of the panel speakers.
“It forces them to park in nondesignated spots. It forces them to park where they really don’t want to park,” he0 said.
While residents rarely like hosting truck stops or parking facilities, there is a safety aspect to consider, Stewart said. A study has found that fatigue-related truck crashes dropped within 30 miles of a truck stop as drivers felt they could safely pull over.
While the private sector has started to address the change, some in the crowd argued there’s little economic incentive for companies to solve the problem. Parking for 100 trucks would fill 60 acres, and the high land prices up and down the East Coast make that a difficult cost to bare, said one attendee who did not identify himself. The ones that do get started aren’t interested in providing overnight parking, either.
“Those truck stop operators don’t want them to stay there. They want them to spend their money and move on,” the man said.
Another argued that municipalities have a responsibility to require new warehouses to provide parking and basic amenities such as showers and coffee for truckers. Basic formulas such as requiring a public truck parking spot for every 10 parking spots they create can help address the problem, he said.
“There’s no excuse why that can’t be done here,” he said, noting it has long been in place in Schuylkill County.
Bradley said Lower Macungie Township and Allen Township have adopted similar policies, but that provides little answer for the 60 million square feet of warehouses in the Lehigh Valley that truckers already are serving.