Reducing Big Rig Parking Problems

UConn is working with the state and federal Department of Transportation to develop an app that will find safe parking places for truckers

Truck Parking

UConn researchers are working to develop an app to help truckers find safer overnight parking places than along roads and highways.

As the demand for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) services has surged, so has the need for commercial motor vehicle parking. Finding a safe spot to pull off the road and rest overnight can be a challenge for commercial truck drivers, especially in the northeast where interstate highways crisscross more densely populated areas and the cost of real estate is high.

Researchers at UConn’s Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center (CTSRC) are working to develop an app to address the problem, which can result in drivers parking on highway entrance and exit ramps or on the shoulder of the road to comply with federal rest requirements. The three-year pilot project, funded through a $1.46 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and $258,981 from the Connecticut DOT, calls for the development of a Truck Parking Information Management System (TPIMS) to disseminate information on the availability of commercial vehicle parking in real time.

Eric Jackson, a UConn research professor and director of CTSRC and Connecticut Transportation Institute (CTI), worked with FMCSA to develop the idea for the project. Mohammad Razaur Rahman Shaon, an associate research scientist at CTSRS and CTI is primary investigator. Monika Filipovska, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, is co-PI.

“Parking in the northeast has always been an issue because our interstates were built in the 1950s and are in more densely populated areas,” says Jackson.

“Truck parking is a safety issue,” adds Shaon. “If we can provide parking information beforehand, drivers may decide they want to take a break before they get to Connecticut. This will allow them to make more informed decisions about their itinerary, routes, and connections.”

UConn is developing the app in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). They hope that advancing the technological capabilities of CMV parking notifications in Connecticut will encourage the use of intelligent transportation system (ITS) applications throughout the northeast.

Their team is more than a year into the first phase of the project, which will include a review of the literature on TPIMS, development of an ITS framework for real-time data collection, and the app itself. The team will also inventory the supply of public and privately available truck parking and assess demand for it. A separate survey of CMV drivers to better understand the parking issues they encounter in Connecticut will be conducted by students.

The proposed ITS framework will consist of sensors – a mix of video cameras, in-ground and infrared sensors, radar, and laser scanners –a data processing component supported by a state-operated Advanced Traffic Management System or private server, and an assortment of technology that drivers can use to determine where parking is available. Such technology could include in-cab electronic logging devices (ELDs), and Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) units, a wireless communication technology that enables vehicles to communicate with each other directly without using cellular or other infrastructure. Digital message boards known as Electronic Dynamic Message Signs (DMS), feeds to mobile apps, interactive voice response and websites are among the other means of relaying real-time parking updates being considered.

“These technologies allow us to collect, process, and share valid real-time parking information to enable informed decision-making for truck drivers, which can be critical to safety,” says  Filipovska.

Jackson and his team at CTSRC are best known for their work with motor vehicle crash data, including crashes involving CMVs. The idea for a truck parking app took root, he says, at a time when the state DOT was finishing up an inventory of public CMV parking and had just released its 2022-2026 Statewide Freight Plan, which included a review of CMV smart parking solutions employed by the states of Texas, California, and Minnesota.

“Part of the Freight Plan was to expand CMV parking,” Jackson says. “Their inventory included only public spaces. Our project will look at public and private parking together“.

The share of goods being transported by truck has steadily grown in recent years, with an estimated 72.5 percent of total domestic tonnage – nearly 12 billion tons – shipped in 2019, according to the American Trucking Association. The extensive network of expressways in the U.S., larger and heavier trucks, stable fuel prices, increased competition, and a reduction of branch rail lines, have all contributed to the growth and heightened concerns about safety and the need to offer CMV drivers a convenient way to find a safe place to park and sleep.

FMCSA “hours-of-service” (HOS) regulations are designed to ensure that drivers are rested, awake and alert on the road. The rules require 30-minute driving breaks for every 8-hour stretch of continuous driving, and limit consecutive hours of driving to a maximum of 14 hours with a passenger or 15 hours without one, followed by 10 consecutive hours off the clock.

FMCSA introduced a “Smart Park” program to demonstrate nationally how technology might be used to identify and convey real-time parking availability information. As the federal agency responsible for regulating and overseeing commercial motor vehicle safety, FMCSA had been pushing hard for Connecticut to implement some sort of solution, Jackson says.

In the Midwest, an association of transportation officials representing the states of Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, is working to develop and implement a TPIMS truck parking management solution serving that region. Other states are implementing lower tech solutions. Kentucky, for example, has introduced a “Truck Haven” program that allows CMV parking at weight and safety inspection facilities. Iowa has turned several weigh stations into truck parking locations and rebuilt rest areas with expanded truck parking.

Expanding public truck parking facilities in Connecticut would be more challenging and is not currently under consideration, Jackson says. The app will instead offer truck drivers a way to locate existing parking facilities in the state or identify available parking in neighboring states when none can be found in Connecticut.

The supply and demand analysis conducted in Phase I will be used to develop the framework for the Phase II placement of cameras on roadways, Jackson says. Once approved by state DOT, the cameras will be deployed to begin providing real-time parking updates. Phase II will also include collecting user feedback on the app with an eye toward refining and improving it for users.