The question of where independent truck drivers should park has come to a head as the region’s warehousing business continues to increase.
Truckers need a place to rest, refuel, shower and eat.
Industry leaders, policy makers and people in charge of both public and private spaces face challenges in finding parking solutions.
The state Department of Transportation recently asked for private-sector help, and among the nearly 20 companies stepping forward was Blue Eagle Logistics of Upper Macungie Township. The company offers same-day and next-day expedited freight and warehousing services.
“People need to give some thought to providing overnight parking,” said Andy Plank, company president. “I think the Lehigh Valley needs some sort of new private truck stop.”
Municipal leaders are also looking at the problem.
“It’s a problem county-wide. Everything is being delivered by these companies,” said Dave Colver board of supervisors chairman for Palmer Township.
More shopping, more trucks
The parking problem is a by-product of a booming industry and regulation.
Warehouses have popped up locally because of the rise of online shopping and the Greater Lehigh Valley’s proximity to East Coast metropolitan areas. It generates big business and more truck traffic.
New federal requirements, while intended to curb fatigue-related accidents, force truckers to make more frequent stops.
Another factor is the dearth of large trucking facilities in the Greater Lehigh Valley that can accommodate the need for tractor-trailer parking.
One exception is a truck stop off Interstate 78 in Bloomsbury, a few miles outside Phillipsburg in Warren County, New Jersey.
One of the few spots on the Pennsylvania side is a truck stop that’s expanding at the New Smithville exit in Weisenberg Township, near the border with Berks County.
There’s also Trexler Plaza Truck Stop on nearly nine acres in Upper Macungie Township and a few smaller truck stops sprinkled elsewhere in the valley, including some in the Hamburg area of Berks County.
Ad hoc solutions also have been found.
In Lower Macungie Township, some commercial property owners allow truck drivers to use their properties as truck storage.
Two privately owned sites near Route 100 lease spaces to independent truckers to park, said Sara Pandl, director of planning and commercial development for Lower Macungie Township.
“We do have smaller lots where people who are local drivers can leave their trucks,” Pandl said. “We are seeing an interest in expanding truck-parking areas with our existing businesses. Industrial users are providing more space.”
Some township officials also are addressing demand at its source.
When developers propose warehouses in Lower Macungie, officials ask them to design in extra truck parking spaces and push back the lot entrance gate so waiting trucks are not parked on township roads, she added.
Last summer, truck parking on roads became an issue in Palmer Township with the growth of businesses such as Amazon, UPS and XPO Logistics, all of which have facilities in an industrial park in the township.
Through enforcement and signage, the problem appears to have died down. However, Colver said when Werner Enterprises presented a plan to build a truck parking facility in the township, which would include a driver school, it faced opposition from residents.
Werner eventually earned approval from the township to build its facility at the corner of Tatamy and Newlins Mill roads in Palmer, but the facility is only for drivers from Werner Enterprises, not independent truck drivers. Colver said construction could start in the summer on the facility.
However, Colver said truckers need larger facilities where they can eat, shower, buy gas and take breaks.
“There’s really not anything in the valley for something like that,” Colver said.
Drivers do need places to take breaks and stop for gas, said Becky Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
She said these places do exist in the valley, such as at Wawa or Love’s Travel Stop, chain convenience stores with gas stations that allow truck parking. As an example, Wawa allows truck parking at its Route 100 site in Upper Macungie Township — a haven for logistics and distribution facilities.
Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission offers road signs showing where available truck stops are, she added.
It’s possible that large vacant or underused surface parking lots found in many retail centers throughout the region could be used for truck parking. At Palmer Park Mall, for example, a parking lot in front of a former Bon-Ton store is largely empty.
Some municipalities may want to allow parking in such areas. Others may not.
When asked about this possibility, Colver said Palmer Township probably would not want truck parking at the Palmer Park Mall. It would be unsightly, particularly for people living across the street from the mall. Trucks also could do significant damage to the lots, he said.
Walmart allows some truck staging on their facilities, Bradley said. However, each municipality is different, she added.
“Some may consider it part of the major use of retail, but then there’s others that say this is not freight use,” Bradley said.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, she added.
“It’s not just about building one facility,” Bradley said. “Trucks aren’t all going to go to the same facility at the same time.”
Strip malls, gas stations and warehouses already exist. It’s possible that these are potential solutions and officials may find more ways to add truck parking to these sites.
In the meantime, the planning commission is working with several state agencies to address the issue.
“We are all working on these issues with the private sector,” Bradley said. “A lot of interesting solutions are coming.”
Nineteen companies responded to the request for information sent out by PennDOT in December. Respondents included some local companies: Blue Eagle Logistics of Upper Macungie Township, AECOM, which has a location in Reading; and Kapsch, which has a location in Hanover Township, Northampton County.
PennDOT is reviewing responses and looking for common themes or opportunities, said Michael Bonini, director of public-private partnerships at PennDOT.
Bonini said it is still early in the process.
But some of the solutions could be technological, he added. Truckers now use apps, for example, that show available spaces at truck lots.
Later this month, PennDOT plans to host a meeting that will include people from planning organizations throughout the state, focused on meeting freight challenges.
The solution won’t be easy.
“This is a very challenging issue that we are dealing with,” said PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick.