A lack of places for big rigs to park in Georgia is threatening the safety of both truckers and the rest of the motoring public, transportation experts said Tuesday.
Truck drivers who have driven the maximum number of hours allowed under industry regulations frequently find truck stops and highway rest areas full and are forced to park along roadsides, Daniel Studdard, manager of freight planning for the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), told members of the Georgia Freight & Logistics Commission during a hearing at the state Capitol.
“When a truck is parked in an unauthorized location, it really creates a crash risk,” Studdard said. “This is personal for [truck drivers]. They need somewhere safe to park.”
The shortage of truck parking was among the findings in a report the Georgia Freight & Logistics Commission released last January. The General Assembly formed the panel of lawmakers and logistics industry executives last year to look for ways to expedite the movement of freight across the state.
Jannine Miller, director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said the demand for truck parking has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, which has sparked huge growth in e-commerce.
“We’ve all benefited from at-home deliveries during the pandemic,” she said. “[E-commerce] has been growing several-fold.”
Miller said another factor driving demand for truck parking is the industrial growth taking place in Georgia despite COVID-19.
The state Department of Economic Development reported $7.4 billion in private investment took place in Georgia during the last fiscal year, even though the economic lockdown resulting from the pandemic crippled business activity during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020 last spring.
“Eighty-four percent of that investment was in companies that require logistics to move their goods,” Miller said.
Studdard said most of the current supply of truck parking spaces in the Atlanta region is limited to Fulton County and edge counties including Coweta, Henry, Jackson and Hall. Other counties in the region have few available spaces, and Gwinnett County has none, he said.
More than 90% of truckers traveling through the region reported it typically takes them at least a half hour to find parking, according to a study the ARC completed in 2018.
“That’s a waste of their time and fuel,” Studdard said. “If they’re driving around looking for somewhere to park, that also affects our traffic congestion.”
Potential solutions to the problem other states have been exploring include converting large highway medians or undeveloped parcels in areas zoned for commercial use into truck parking, or simply building no-frills truck parking lots equipped only with restrooms, lighting and some form of security.
Miller said the current supply of truck parking in Georgia is too concentrated in metro Atlanta. Savannah, in particular, has a need for more truck parking to accommodate the growth of the containerized cargo traffic in and out of the Port of Savannah, she said.
“We need to have more truck parking areas scattered around the state,” she said.
The Georgia Freight & Logistics Commission will continue to meet this fall and expects to deliver recommendations by early December.