Q: Recently I have noticed many trucks pulled over and using the emergency lanes of the Route 222 Bypass for overnight parking, especially northbound between Macungie and Route 100 and on the entrance ramp from Route 100. This was not the intended use of the Bypass, and it's dangerous because trucks can be struck from behind, or they can be hit pulling into traffic. Upper Macungie police would rather catch speeders on the Bypass than enforce this law. No signs on the Bypass or Route 100 prohibit parking on the shoulder.
— Michael Siegel, Macungie
A: According to a 2007 parking study by the Pennsylvania Transportation Advisory Committee, no signs are necessary for parking to be prohibited on the shoulders of limited-access highways. That's been my understanding as well, from discussions with PennDOT officials. However, by my reading, the Vehicle Code section cited in the study, 3353 (a) (2) (vii), in fact does not prohibit such parking. This will have to be another topic for another day, but for now, I'll ask any relevant officials, as well as fellow warriors alike, to let me know if I'm mistaken. The law is readily available online.
But for now, let's say the advisory committee, PennDOT officials and state police are correct, and long-term parking is illegal on highway shoulders, posted or not. Assuming the Route 222 Bypass qualifies as a limited-access highway (access is limited, but the 45 mph speed limit serves as the minimum speed on some highways, and PennDOT once insisted on referring to the Bypass as "our boulevard concept"), the practice you cite is prohibited, Michael.
The important point regarding safety not just on the Bypass but across the country is that there's a shortage of legal parking spaces for big-rig drivers, who are pressed by employers and/or by marketplace demands to make deliveries as quickly as possible, and to do so without compromising safety, which includes abiding by mandatory federal rest-period rules that were tightened this past July to cut back on dangerous drowsy driving.
The allowable work week was cut from 82 to 70 hours, after which a rest period of 34 continuous hours is required, and mandatory half-hour breaks were imposed during the first eight hours of a shift, among other changes. Truckers consider the rules to be overly restrictive — the 150,000-member Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association wants Congress to add some flexibility to the requirements — while some safety advocates think the feds didn't go far enough.
Truckers are easy targets for blame for a number of problems, real or perceived, but it's important to consider the view through their windshields. As the number of big-rigs has grown (not least in our warehouse-laden region), and the rest requirements increased, parking-space supply has remained essentially the same.
In addition, some municipalities, including those in the Lehigh Valley, have restricted or prohibited these trucks from long-term parking on specified streets or even within municipal boundaries, intensifying the problem for operators.
"Parking is an ongoing problem for carriers and drivers," said Dean Riland of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association. "It's just a real issue. Even for established truck stops, what we're hearing from drivers is they're full, or nearly full," as drivers exit the highway and search through the lots, only to return to the road, frustrated. "It's an ongoing problem," Riland said.
The comprehensive study, "Truck Parking in Pennsylvania," found that on average, some 13,000 truckers need prime-time (3 to 4 a.m.) parking spaces, with only 11,500 spaces available at PennDOT or Turnpike rest areas or for-profit truck stops. Within specified "core highway system" corridors, mostly along interstates, the shortage was even more acute, estimated at 4,400 spaces, and that was six years ago.
There's been no comprehensive PennDOT program since the study to increase the supply of truck parking. "We haven't had any concerted effort to add parking to existing facilities, obviously because of funding constraints," PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said recently. Without a recount to update the 2007 numbers, Waters-Trasatt agreed that it's likely the parking-space supply is roughly the same today.
The study anticipated continued growth in truck traffic, envisioning a 50 percent increase by 2030. Though PennDOT has initiated no major expansions, Waters-Trasatt said some capacity is being added at several rest areas in Dauphin County, and space was increased in the most recent reconstruction of the I-95 Welcome Center near Philadelphia. "We do take [the parking shortage] into account" when re-doing rest stops, she said. But the effect is minimal considering the shortfall.
The parking shortage should be an incentive for added capacity at private truck stops or the creation of new facilities, but lots of land is needed for parking the oversize vehicles.
"To buy some acreage to accommodate trucks, that can be a really big cost," Riland said.
Some truckers park at motels, but they're not always welcome, Riland said, in part because of the parking space the rigs eat up or the damage they can do to lots not designed to accommodate their weight.
Transportation being an important part of Pennsylvania's business structure, it seems a more comprehensive approach would help, especially now that the Legislature finally has approved an estimated $2.4 billion in new annual transportation revenue to be phased in over the next few years.
Of course, more than enough road and bridge projects are in line for chunks of that money.
I put the question from the truckers' point of view to Waters-Trasatt: "What are these guys supposed to do?" I asked.
"I don't know what might be the best solution," she said, suggesting after a moment that drivers "as much as possible should try to schedule their trips" to avoid the need to stop for required rest unless there's a good chance legal spaces will be available. That's not much to offer, but I have no easy answers, either.
In a McClatchy Newspapers story on this issue that we published in August, an expert from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute put it this way: "This is one of those issues that is very, very tough, because you have a trade-off between productivity and safety. You have all these things intersecting.
"There is not a clear best solution."
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