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Encore: Why a shortage of parking places for tractor-trailers is a stubborn problem

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Surely, someone is listening to this next story while circling for a parking spot, so they can relate to truck drivers across the United States. At the end of a long day, many struggle to find a place to park and sleep. Frank Morris, with member station KCUR, has more.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: If you think finding a place to park your car is a pain, try parking an 80-foot-long semitruck. Federal law requires truck drivers to stop and sleep every 14 hours, but there aren't enough places to park. This Petro truck stop in Oak Grove, Mo., has 300 spots. They all fill up.

LEROY HERSHBERGER: Parking sucks. Yeah. And truck stops tonight - after 4 o'clock, it's pretty much full.

MORRIS: Leroy Hershberger (ph) drives all night, every night, because parking is easier by day. Michael Collins (ph) schedules his work around parking, too. The early evening view of the truck stop from his parked cab explains why.

MICHAEL COLLINS: Well, you see it. There's really no parking. So around 2 o'clock in the morning, they're going to be double-parked everywhere - double- and triple-parked everywhere - because there's just nowhere to park.

MORRIS: When truck stops like this are jammed, and rest areas are, too, drivers park on freeway offramps or side streets, big retail parking lots or abandoned gas stations.

TODD SPENCER: There is one parking space for every 11 trucks on the road - one for 11 trucks.

MORRIS: Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, says truck drivers work under fixed rules that give them a 14-hour block of time to get their driving done before they have to park and sleep.

SPENCER: The regulations require them to take a continuous 10-hour off-duty break. Where the truck stops, it can't move again for 10 hours.

MORRIS: Truckers build meticulous travel schedules around those rules and known parking spots. But holdups at shipping docks or bad weather can scramble their plans. The problem's especially acute on the East Coast, around big cities and some mountainous parts of the country. And it's not new. Driver Mike Nichols (ph) recalls a night in 1999, in New Jersey - the first time he found himself with no place to park.

MIKE NICHOLS: And I remember not getting a spot there and having to creatively find a spot off the road and park, basically, in a vacant lot.

MORRIS: Drivers have been robbed and even killed parking like that. Finding spaces takes time - sometimes hours. It slows down freight and eats into drivers' pay, and it can get under their skin.

NICHOLS: You know, depending on where you're at, it feels like being homeless because you don't know where you're going to sleep.

MORRIS: And it's getting worse. Each year, there are more trucks on the road. But it's hard to build new truck stops. Even where there's land available, neighbors tend to resist sprawling, all-night businesses that attract diesel trucks by the hundreds. George O'Connor, spokesman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, says states can use federal transportation money to pour concrete slabs for visiting truckers, but they don't have to.

GEORGE O'CONNOR: So truck parking is competing with bridge projects, for instance. I mean, if you're an elected official, are you going to go cut a ribbon in front of a bridge, or are you going to cut a ribbon in front of a truck stop?

MORRIS: There is a possible legislative remedy. Democrat and Republican lawmakers in Congress have teamed up to sponsor bills that would set aside more than $700 million to build spots, but passing those bills would require broader bipartisan buy-in to get over-the-road truckers a decent place to park.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.