PennDOT Contest Challenges Teens to Solve Truck Parking

Truck traffic on Interstate 81 in Paxtonia, Pa., is in one of the 12 areas students can choose from to explore truck parking solutions. (Dough4872 via Wikipedia)

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Pennsylvania high school students are trying to crack the truck parking puzzle in the state department of transportation’s annual Innovations Challenge contest.

“Truck parking has been an ongoing challenge for many states, including Pennsylvania. We’ve studied the issue and are working on some options to help address it in our Freight Movement Plan, but we’re looking for creative ideas from the next generation,” Alexis Campbell, press secretary at PennDOT, told Transport Topics.

The state’s Freight Movement Plan, per the PennDOT website, “recommends policies and identifies projects to improve multimodal freight movement.” The Innovations Challenge is a statewide competition in which student teams — including a faculty advisor and two to four teens from the 9th through 12th grades — develop strategies to solve real transportation challenges.

Campbell said PennDOT’s leadership chose truck parking as this year’s contest topic since the issue remains a challenge not only in Pennsylvania, but for other states, too.

“It certainly isn’t an easy topic, but that’s the point. The purpose of the Innovations Challenge is to provide students with the opportunity to think strategically and creatively on real transportation issues. Past challenge topics have included transportation funding, roadway litter, work zone safety and more. Each year, students step up to the plate and present us with impressive, innovative ideas,” she said.

Host Seth Clevenger speaks with Waabi's Vivian Sun and's Jan Becker about how autonomous trucks can fit into the freight transportation industry. Hear the program above and at

First of a three-part series on autonomous vehicles. Part II coming Jan. 26. Part III coming Feb. 2.

Students were provided with information on the shortage of commercial truck parking areas along the state’s major interstate corridors. Per PennDOT, during peak demand periods some 12,100 require parking. There are about 11,600 parking spaces across the state at private truck stops, PennDOT rest areas and Pennsylvania Turnpike service plazas.

According to the content description, “Trucks parking on highway shoulders and ramps is common during overnight hours and presents a significant safety issue. As just-in-time deliveries continue to be the mainstay of global business, the demand for truck parking will continue to increase. Federal hours-of-service regulations require more downtime for drivers, which translates into an increased demand for truck parking, and many local governments have strict ordinances against overnight truck parking in their communities.”

The challenge directs students to choose one of 12 geographic areas where truck parking is a problem, and develop an innovative approach to increase parking availability while also offsetting potential construction costs.

Students must try to solve truck parking at one of these problem areas along the interstates:

1. I-99/I-80 Interchange in Centre County

2. I-81/I-476 Interchange in Luzerne County

3. I-84, I-380 and I-81 Interchange in Lackawanna County

4. I-78/I-81 Interchange in Lebanon County

5. PA 33 at I-78 Interchange in Northampton County

6. PA 33 at I-80 Interchange in Monroe County

7. I-81 (any PA county that I-81 traverses)  

8. I-83 Cumberland/York Counties

9. I-70 at I-76 Interchange (New Stanton) in Westmoreland County

10. I-70 in Washington County

11. I-80 in Jefferson County

12. I-90 Erie County

“Your solution must consider local ordinances and zoning laws for the area selected, commercial entity interaction in land development, community impact, restroom facilities and space requirements for commercial trucks that are generally 70-80 feet long,” according to contest requirements.

Judging criteria includes points awarded for effectiveness, community benefits, cost-effectiveness, innovation and overall presentation.

In March, PennDOT’s engineering districts will select regional winners, who will receive a certificate and progress to a statewide competition where they will present their innovative solutions in April to the PennDOT Secretary and a panel of judges, who select a state winner.

The winning state team members will receive certificates and their school will have a traveling trophy and permanent trophy engraved with the school’s name. In addition, the state champion team will receive a total of $4,000 from the Transportation Policy and Education Foundation (part of the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors) and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Pennsylvania.

A week before the Jan. 27 submission deadline, 11 teams had submitted entries, Campbell said, adding that 32 teams competed in last year’s competition.

“Another important purpose of the Innovations Challenge is to introduce students to the possibility of a career in transportation, maybe even with PennDOT,” she said.

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