Arkansas state officials and trucking agencies are working together to address a longstanding truck parking issue further exacerbated by the COVID19 pandemic and the closure of a major bridge. 

The Arkansas Department of Transportation and the Arkansas Trucking Association are looking to use money previously set aside for the promotion of commercial vehicle safety in order to convert the site of an old Welcome Center into safe, effective truck parking and trucking facilities. 

“Providing ample truck parking makes it easier for drivers to get rest when they need it, and then get back on the road to safely deliver America’s freight,” said Shannon Newton, president of the association, to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Professional drivers must adhere to strict hours-of-service regulations that ensure they are rested and road-ready.”

“For the 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S., there are only about 313,000 trucking spaces,” Newton said in an email. “The situation is particularly bad here in Arkansas, with only 66-83 parking spaces per 100,000 daily truck vehicle miles traveled, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).”

Although truck parking has been a nationwide issue for decades, the recent influx of freight during the pandemic paired with the closure of the Interstate 40 bridge over the Mississippi River at Memphis, has made truck parking all the more difficult. During the first weeks of the Interstate 55 detour, truck drivers faced hours-long delays, or miles added to their trip looking for another route. 

“Lack of available parking puts drivers in a precarious position: They are forced to operate illegally until they find safe parking; park in an unsafe or illegal location, which may put themselves or other motorists at risk,” Newton said.

In addition to the safety issues, the lack of parking costs truckers money – something the Arkansas Trucking Association does not support. 

“According to the American Trucking Associations, time spent looking for available truck parking costs the average driver about $5,500 in direct lost compensation — or a 12% cut in annual pay,” Newton said. “Truck drivers give up an average of 56 minutes of available drive time per day parking early rather than risking not being able to find parking down the road.”

Because of this, agency and industry executives have banded together to form the Arkansas Commercial Truck Safety and Education Program Committee, and are looking to use that truck safety money to convert the former I-40 Welcome center in West Memphis into a space with 60 truck parking spaces, accessible restrooms, and even an Arkansas Highway Police substation.

The committee allocated $4 million for the project, and although the project is to be built on property already owned by the state, the committee was unable to secure a bid for anything less than $7.6 million when the bids opened last week. Now, the committee is left with several options: find more money for the project, scale back the project, or come up with a new plan entirely. Officials are expected to discuss the options “in more detail” later this week. 

In addition to this project, the committee is already scheduled to meet later this month to discuss funding for a similar project at the White River Tourist Information Center. 

“The committee annually reviews funding requests pertaining to commercial truck safety issues,” said Kelly Crow, the association’s vice president. “It is scheduled to meet later this month, at which time I anticipate those questions to be addressed.”