Nearly everyone in trucking agrees that in many parts of the country, finding a parking space to sleep at night is difficult, if not impossible, for long-haul truckers. But developing concrete solutions to the problem is a complex process, as attendees at the Federal Highway Administration's rest area forum in Atlanta have been finding out this week.

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century directed the U.S. DOT to conduct a study of the commercial truck parking problem. FHWA is holding this two-day forum as a preliminary step, gathering information on what issues need to be addressed in the study. At the same time, the forum brings together about 80 representatives from the federal government, state DOTs, trucking companies, drivers, truckstops and others in a search for solutions.
Julie Anna Cirillo, program manager for the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety, spoke to the group about the importance of the parking issue. "Changes in hours of service regulations is an exercise in futility if parking's not available when drivers reach the end of their hours of service limits," she said.
After Cirillo's remarks, a panel representing the different parts of the industry attending gave an overall look at the problem. Closed rest areas, rest areas with drug selling and prostitution, lack of driver knowledge of available parking, time limits on rest area parking, private truckstop expansion plans and so forth were covered.
The rest of the two-day forum is devoted to break-out sessions, with small groups discussing problems and developing solutions. There was some bickering, as representatives from NATSO, the association representing truckstops, contended that there is not a parking shortage and that some of the rest area commercialization solutions proposed would be unfair competition to private enterprise.
And even when a solution seems pretty clear cut - such as improving lighting at rest areas to cut down on crime - it's not always as easy to figure out how to go about accomplishing it. Should AASHTO, the association of state DOTs, cover it in their new rest area guidelines? How do you determine how much lighting is enough - or too much? Should the federal government mandate funds for rest area lighting?
All the break-out session recommendations will be compiled into a final report for the DOT. But Bob Davis with FHWA says he believes more good could come out of the networking that is taking place, as attendees take home ideas and programs that have worked in other states to combat the parking problem.