By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service
LANSING— Michigan expects a $3 million federal grant to expand its Truck Parking Information and Management System to provide parking information for truck drivers to increase their safety, according to the Department of Transportation (MDOT).
“We were really happy that the federal government saw this as a worthwhile project,” said Kirk Steudle, the MDOT director. “Truck parking is a very real problem.”
Chuck Simmons, safety management specialist at the Michigan Center for Truck Safety, said truck drivers have a problem finding safe and available parking, which increases the danger for them.
“It could be challenging to find a parking spot. If they can’t find a safe spot, they will find whatever is available,” Simmons said. “That means what’s left are probably unsafe.
“There were several times when truck drivers were killed because they parked in bad places in bad parts of a town, and there were no safe parking available. So I think if there is more information for truck drivers on where the safe parking is, the better off they will be.” Simmons added.
According to MDOT, commercial truck drivers routinely park on rest area entrance and exit ramps, in car parking areas and on interstate entrance and exit ramps.
“A significant percentage of truck parking spaces at private parking facilities are empty or under-used,” said Nick Schirripa, communications representative of MDOT. “The goal of the system is to identify available parking and share that information with commercial vehicle operators.”
According to MDOT, I-94 in Southwest Michigan carries some of the highest commercial volumes in the Midwest. Trucks account for approximately 23 to 30 percent of all traffic in the corridor, making it the highest concentration of commercial vehicles on interstate highways in Michigan.
In September 2014, MDOT activated the I-94 Truck Parking Information and Management System. It assesses parking availability along the I-94 corridor in Southwest Michigan and delivers real-time availability information to drivers.
Steudle said, “What the system does is to give them information and they can make a decision to park at a safe spot instead of long standing on the road. The feedback we got from the trucking industry was ‘this is really good information’ and they like it.”
Schirripa said the system includes high-tech methods for sharing availability information, such as dynamic roadside signs, MDOT’s Mi Drive traffic information website (www.michigan.gov/drive), the Truck Smart Parking Services website and smartphone applications (www.trucksmartparkingservices.com), and a fleet of pilot trucks equipped with on-board connected vehicle equipment.
“With any intelligent transportation system, driver distraction is a major consideration and was a critical focus when designing all aspects of the project. Features like text-to-speech were implemented in smartphone and connected vehicle applications to reduce driver distraction and improve safety,” he said.
The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute is doing an independent evaluation of the safety benefits of the system. As part of the study, the institute has done extensive surveys of truckers to determine their perception of the benefits of the system. Preliminary results have shown positive feedback on its use and benefit, according to Schirripa.
Schirripa said the new funding will be used to expand the system to additional public rest areas and private truck stops along I-94 between Parma and Detroit, as well as along I-75 from the Ohio line to approximately Flint, according to MDOT.
“MDOT currently has a preliminary deployment plan and budget associated with the expanded deployment. However, a more refined engineering level design and estimate will be developed in the coming months,” Schirripa added.
According to MDOT, the system will expand to a multi-state Midwest truck parking system for Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Kansas is the lead applicant.
Steudle said, “We shared this concept with surrounding states and want to make it bigger. And Kansas really liked it. They did the application on behalf of the other states.
“In Michigan’s case, we will expand what we have been going. And for other states, they can just take what was already there and duplicate what Michigan did for the project,” he said.
The next step will be to complete a full design to implement.
Steudle said, “One of the most challenging components to the next steps will be to coordinate our efforts with the other states in the Mid America Association of
Transportation Officials to ensure there is consistent look and feel as to how the information is disseminated and shared, while allowing each state DOT the ability to customize the system to meet their individual needs.”
Additional Resources for CNS Editors:
Mi Drive: www.michigan.gov/drive
Truck Smart Parking Services: www.trucksmartparkingservices.com
By ZHAO PENG