Where do all the trucks go?

When people talk about Philadelphia’s infrastructure needs, they usually cite the age of SEPTA’s rail bridges. Or the need to reconstruct Interstate 95.

What they don’t often mention: truck parking spaces. And according to a new report by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, this oft-overlooked piece of the region’s infrastructure puzzle is in need of some serious help.

The region currently needs 247 additional parking spaces, according to the report, which was released last month. That number is projected to grow to 466 spaces by 2035 if nothing is done.

Things are worse along east-west routes through Philadelphia than along north-south highways ― which tend to run through New Jersey, a state with a better handle on the problem.

And since 75 percent of the region’s freight is carried by truck, it’s a problem we should be paying attention to, according to author Ted Dahlburg, who manages the DVRPC’s office of freight planning.

Truck parking isn’t just important because trucks need to go somewhere. Federal safety regulations also come into play. Though the rules are complex, they basically require truckers to spend a certain amount of time off duty after a certain number of hours behind the wheel. When that happens, truckers need to find a parking spot.

When they can’t find one, they can end up parked in dangerous places ― like highway on-ramps ― or in residential neighborhoods. A DVRPC survey found 15 trucks parked on the shoulders of interstate highways, with 39 more parked in “wide outs” along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Those emergency-only use spaces are scheduled for elimination because of a Turnpike widening project.

An additional 77 trucks were found parked near South Philadelphia industrial sites in one night of the survey. All told, DVRPC estimates 300 trucks are parked in unauthorized locations every night.

There are three kinds of facilities in the region that provide truck parking: private truck stops, service plazas and welcome centers.

Private truck stops, which the report says represent 79 percent of parking capacity, generally make their money by providing food, fuel and other amenities to truckers. Some of the more extensive even provide showers and laundry facilities.

Service plazas are public facilities located along the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes, and welcome centers are publicly owned facilities located near state borders.

The study found that many of these areas are actually operating above capacity, with more trucks in them than spaces.

Moreover, the report details declining capacity in all these categories. Over the past several years, two New Jersey and two Pennsylvania service plazas have been closed to sxave money. And the last privately owned truck stop in Philadelphia, the Walt Whitman Truck Stop, located near South Philadelphia industrial sites, closed in 2006.

Dahlburg said that, given this, the most important thing the region can do is “maintain what we have” and stop further closures.

In terms of adding capacity, he thinks that some existing rest areas can be reconfigured to carry more trucks and that the public sector can do more to convince private operators to build truck stops.

Dahlburg points to the Bensalem Travel Plaza, which recently opened with 100 spaces, as a good example of what creative thinking can do. Atkinson Freight Lines, which owns the stop, created it because it recognized that it had existing parking capacity at its facility.

A link to the study can be found here.

Contact the reporter at acampisi@planphilly.com

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