Unresolved safety issues caused by truck parking shortages in high-demand locations are of keen importance to the State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) participating in the Regional PacTrans Center and to the thousands of trucking companies and drivers using the Interstate 5 (I-5) and Interstate 90 (I-90) corridors. Safety issues include serious and/or fatal crashes that may be related to the lack of safe and secure parking, and illegal/unofficial parking on entrance and exit ramps, shoulders, and freeway lanes that create hazards for motorists during severe weather.
WSDOT completed a statewide truck parking study in December 2016, and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) published a report on truck parking along the US97 corridor in July 2017. Both states are interested in addressing safety issues inherent in the current lack of truck parking capacity. Researchers at the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center (SCTL) at the University of Washington developed this project’s research goals with WSDOT to support their work.
The project goals are to:
- Provide data-based decision support to WSDOT and neighboring states as they develop solutions for the lack of safe truck parking along the I-5 and I-90 corridors.
- Develop new and valuable insights from truck drivers’ expertise on safety problems resulting from the lack of truck parking capacity on these corridors.
To achieve these goals, the research team first conducted a research scan of existing studies and other online reports that describe the lack of parking in high-demand locations along the I-5 and I-90 corridors in the PacTrans region.
SCTL identified three trends in the truck parking industry that will affect the truck parking shortage in the future:
- The rising cost of land in growing metropolitan areas will continue to intensify this problem. Rapidly increasing land costs create pressure on truck service firms to either create new revenue streams (charging for parking that was formerly included for ‘free’ along with retail fuel sales) or relocate further from metro centers if they cannot compete with higher-value land uses near highway interchanges. Also, manufacturing and wholesale facilities that generate a high number of truck trips will likely continue to maximize building footprints on parcels, reducing available land for on-site truck parking.
- Federal regulatory changes are likely to increase long-haul truck parking demand in the next 10 years. In the short term, the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate beginning in 2018 will change driver behavior. Although some long-haul drivers have not strictly followed federal Hours of Service (HOS) regulations in the past, under the new ELD mandate they are more likely to stop and park for required rest periods because it will be more difficult to evade detection. In the next 10 years, additional federal regulations may be enacted and shorten drivers’ HOS again, thereby increasing demand for more rest stops on the Interstate Highway System and other major truck routes.
- In the longer term, emerging autonomous and cooperative truck technologies that address driver fatigue are likely to reduce demand for truck stops in rural areas – but not near cities. The truck driver interviews conducted for this project show that drivers stop for business reasons, not just for safety rest periods.
Finally, SCTL conducted 184 interviews of truck drivers over a three-week time period at two high-demand truck stops on the I-5 and I-90 corridors to determine: (a) origin and destination of trips; (b) connection to the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma; (c) drivers’ perceptions of safety issues caused by a lack of truck parking; (d) types of commodities carried; and (e) why drivers parked at these rest stops.
The SCTL Center’s research provides new data and insights to answer questions under discussion between state, local, and regional transportation agencies and communities in the central Puget Sound region. The research results supported development of the Washington State Freight Mobility Plan. However the project’s findings have not resulted in public funding for additional parking in high-demand locations near I5 and I-90.
One of the most topical questions is whether the state’s economy and/or the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma benefit from the truck trips that require rest stops near the Seattle-Tacoma Bellevue metropolitan area. This question is central to understanding their proportional roles and funding responsibilities to add parking capacity where it is scarce: in the central Puget Sound region.
- The on-site truck driver survey showed that there is an extremely strong tie between truck parking activity and the state’s economy: 91% percent of trucks parked along I-90 (at TA Seattle East Travel Center in North Bend) and 87% of those parked along I-5 (at the Mustard Seed in Sumner) delivered goods to businesses and other customers within Washington State. The evidence belies the hypothesis that most trucks using parking facilities in Washington are passing through the state and therefore provide no economic value to it.
- Most drivers using the two truck parking facilities in central Puget Sound were not going to either the Port of Seattle or Port of Tacoma. In fact, 83% of truck drivers parked near I-90 and 78% near I-5 did not go to either of the two container ports. Although port-related traffic uses iv the truck parking facilities, it is not the major cause of increased parking demand at these locations.
- Why do truck drivers park in these facilities? Surprisingly, more park there – and park longer – for business reasons rather than for safety reasons. The largest group of drivers (34% of those interviewed at TA Seattle East and 36% at Mustard Seed) said their primary reason for the stop was to wait to meet a specific delivery time at their destination or wait to locate another load. When SCTL compared the number of hours parked with the primary reason for parking, it found that delivery operations were the largest driver for longer stays.
The research findings have been used to communicate the importance of providing truck parking in high-demand areas in Washington State, particularly near I-5 south of Seattle and along I-90 near North Bend, to local officials, WSDOT, and other state officials.
By an overwhelming margin, truck drivers who parked along I-5 and I90 near the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area delivered goods in Washington State, providing strong evidence that their activities support the state’s economy and residents.