Statehouse Primer

By Mike Matousek, OOIDA Director of state legislative affairs

The lack of adequate commercial truck parking is a problem about as old as trucking itself. Finding a safe, relatively convenient place to park is a daily challenge for many OOIDA members. Through the years it has become more of a challenge as states and local communities have closed rest areas, enacted ordinances that prohibit truck parking, and either refused or failed to look for reasonable alternatives. Many communities want and need the goods that trucks deliver; they just don’t want the trucks.

Not all states and local communities are like that, though. In fact, I spoke with one county official in the eastern United States (name and location intentionally omitted) who was involved in the development of a commercial truck parking lot in his community. The first question I asked was “why”? His response is below:

“We developed the lot in response to concerns from residential neighborhoods who were experiencing a high rate of overnight parking from commercial trucks. The narrow residential streets weren’t built to handle continuous traffic from the tractor-trailer combinations, plus the size of the rigs was out of place in neighborhoods with small parcels and limited parking. Rather than just pass a law banning trucks from overnight parking in the neighborhoods, we wanted to create a viable alternative for the drivers and their rigs.”

Imagine that! The parking lot was developed at a reasonable cost to the public, which is partially offset by charging users a modest hourly, overnight or monthly fee. It is also conveniently located near an interstate and in a commercial area with community considerations in mind. The point is that solutions exist if people are willing to look for them.

There are also forward-thinking state departments of transportation. For example, in Missouri where OOIDA is headquartered, antiquated rest areas and weigh stations have been decommissioned and converted to truck-only parking. Combined with other Missouri Department of Transportation truck parking initiatives, the state has more than doubled the number of truck parking spaces at a minimal cost. Concrete or gravel lots with nothing more than a trash can and vault toilet are probably not ideal or preferred places to park, but I believe most people would agree that it beats the alternative, which is no parking at all.

State departments of transportation and local communities cannot solve this issue on their own, but they are an important piece of a complex puzzle. Indeed, any meaningful and long-term solution will likely require a combination of efforts from the public sector, the private sector, and public-private partnerships.

Equally important, we have to stop state and local officials from causing more harm. For example, the city of North Bend, Wash., recently approved a citywide ordinance that prohibits any additional truck parking beyond what currently exists. As of early May, city officials are also considering a “commercial parking tax” of 30 percent on truck stop operators. Their goal is to simply get rid of “unsightly” trucks.

And in Connecticut, state lawmakers are debating their annual budget. There is a possibility that they will close rest areas on I-84 in Southington and Willington as part of that process. The closures would cause significant harm in terms of available truck parking and jeopardize public safety while doing very little to balance the state budget.

Truck parking remains a priority for OOIDA. With the results of the Jason’s Law study now available and with renewed interest from the public sector and industry stakeholders, we are going to redouble our efforts. Our plan is to work with anyone who wants to help, and our goal is to make it easier for all truck drivers to find a safe place to park. LL