By Aaron Ladage
Although its days were numbered from the day it was filed, a bill in the Missouri Senate drew a great deal of public attention to the lack of truck parking throughout the Show-Me State.
The bill, SB1126, would have required the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to close all rest areas in the state to non-commercial traffic by Jan. 1, 2007 - which would have greatly increased the number of truck parking spaces.
News of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Dan Clemens, R-Marshfield, spread quickly because of the inclusion of a second provision that would have prohibited MoDOT from building any new rest areas.
However, Gus Wagner, Clemens' chief of staff, said the bill - which stalled in the Senate Transportation Committee - was designed purely to ruffle a few feathers.
"The bill was heard in committee," Wagner told Land Line. "We did a presentation, and MoDOT came in and did a presentation. It's not really going to go any further. It kind of answered all the questions, and that was the main crux behind the bill, if you will, to get a lot of questions answered and get some accurate information."
Wagner said the bill was created to combat misinformation that was spreading amongst local communities in Clemens' home district and across the state about a MoDOT plan that will add 10 tourist information centers during the next 10 years.
It has not yet been determined if the state will keep existing rest areas open after the new centers are built.
The centers will be built using federal money designated for highway enhancements, such as improving rest areas, and do not require any legislation to be approved.
During their research, Clemens' staff found that Missouri was already lacking public truck parking facilities, and that eliminating rest areas and creating new facilities without appropriate parking would only compound the problem.
According to a 2002 study by the Federal Highway Administration, Missouri ranks 43rd in terms of available public truck parking spaces.
"When we were doing background on it, we found out about the shortage of truck parking," Wagner said. "We saw we have about half the capacity, either public or private, for parking that we actually need in this state."
Because of discussions generated by the bill, Wagner said MoDOT has promised to at least triple the size of truck parking at the new information centers. The first three facilities to be built will include use of an unspecified land acquisition in northern Missouri, as well as two locations along Interstate 44.
"We're all on the same page and heading in the right direction now," he said. "They're going to build these centers with similar footprints to what you see in the Texas road system - a large rest area center with multiple restroom facilities, a volunteer office, and you can get local information and such. And the most important thing is the expanded truck parking."
Wagner said Clemens will continue to push for current rest areas to be converted into truck-only parking after the new rest areas are finished.
"The current rest areas, we're still trying to figure out what we can do with that, and that's kind of the direction we're encouraging (the legislature) to go," he said. "The current facilities, whether they remain open or closed, let's utilize that parking space for truck parking, so the guys can get off the highways and get off the shoulders and such when they need to rest."