It was past 1:30 a.m. as a tired William Corbin, a trucker from Fayetteville, Tenn., pulled his rig into an overflowing rest stop south of Roanoke in the winter of 2018 while on the way to New Jersey.
He could safely drive no further, but there was no room at the inn.
With trucks already lining the highway exit and entrance ramps surrounding the rest area, and blocking the “no parking” signs, Corbin thought there was safety in numbers.
But a few short hours later, at 4:30 a.m., a Virginia State Trooper came knocking on the window of Corbin’s truck. The trooper then gave Corbin, a third-generation trucker, a $200 ticket for illegal parking.
“I was trying to find somewhere to park,” he said. “Since there wasn’t one, I had to make one.”
And Corbin’s story is not unique.
More than a dozen truckers the Daily News-Record spoke with Thursday all said parking was a major issue facing their industry, their pockets and everyone’s safety.
And truck drivers are not the only ones seeing the issue.
Monday through Friday night, the 250-spot parking lot at the Harrisonburg Truck Stop on South Main Street is completely full, said Christie Smith, the manager of the rest area — a place where, after dark, parked drivers put light blockers on their windshield and make the lonely walk past massive idling diesel engines to the convenience store or showers.
Smith said due to long cargo loading times or traffic, truckers are often forced off the road even when they are not tired due to driving-time caps.
“When I come in here in the mornings, you can tell on the night where everybody has run that their day has been messed up,” Smith said. “So they’re in no parking zones because they have to find somewhere to go.”
Electronic logs allow truckers to operate for 11 or 14 hours — depending on their shift status — before the system penalizes the driver, and the company they work for, if they continue operating without taking a 10-hour break, according to ELDratings.com, a site dedicated to information about electronic trucking logs.
The logs do not account for time the driver has spent in traffic or waiting for loads, Smith said.
And the cap puts drivers in a race to find parking as their hourglass runs out, various truckers said.
The parking shortage has not gone unnoticed by state transportation officials.
“We have recognized that parking is a problem, so we have started looking at what we have in terms of parking availability on our rest areas, as well as what’s available in private truck stops along the [Interstate 81] corridor,” said Cathy McGhee, the director of research and innovation for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
In the next few months, VDOT will bring together truckers, state officials and private industry groups to try and work out a plan to better provide parking for drivers, she said.
The group will be called the “truck parking task force” and will focus on a “two-pronged” approach to the parking shortage, McGhee said.
One is a live system of available parking spots to provide up-to-date information on where truckers can find a safe, legal spot to park, she said. But that cannot be the only solution.
“The bottom line is if we know the status of every parking space in the corridor and they’re all full, that’s not terribly helpful to the truckers who are looking to stop,” McGhee said.
So the other part of the approach is to expand available parking, but the state alone will not be able to do that, she said.
“We’re going to be pretty limited with what we can do with existing VDOT area,” McGhee said.
Thus, the task force will look at ways to encourage private rest stops to expand.
“There’s likely more flexibility [with privately-owned rest areas] than in our facilities that exist already,” she said.
The parking problem was identified by the Commonwealth Transportation Board in the studies for the Interstate 81 improvements, McGhee said. From this study, the parking task force was conceived.
The task force will be better able to deal with the parking shortage if drivers, private rest area owners, trucking industry leaders and local economic groups come together, she said.
“The worst thing you can do is come up with a solution that isn’t a solution,” McGhee said. “We definitely want to make sure we get their input.”
E Logs were a divisive subject among the truckers, many saying that they were restrictive, but still helpful as a whole.
“I’m right here and there’s no parking spots right there,” said Alfred Kiju, a truck driver from Texas, motioning his elbow to the Harrisonburg Truck Stop parking area as he filled his fuel tank. “What am I supposed to do?”
On Thursday, Kiju got stuck in traffic on the Washington D.C. beltway, which took three hours. By the evening, he had run out of time and pulled over in Harrisonburg.
“Everybody’s out of hours, man,” he said, adding that he has received violations for driving beyond his allowed time while trying to find a place to sleep.
Steve Kew, a truck driver from Stratford, Canada, said he hasn’t found Virginia to be the hardest place to find a parking spot and has no problem with the E Logs, despite missing his nephew’s wedding due to his travel time reaching its cap.
“There’s not even truck stops in New England and the police are a lot more restrictive on parking pretty much anywhere,” he said.
During Kew’s first time driving with an E Log four years ago, he ran out of hours and pulled into the Flying J truck stop in Stonewall, north of Winchester.
“I pulled in there and there was no place to park,” he said.
So he pulled into a no parking zone.
“After an hour, somebody banged on the window saying I couldn’t park there so I had to drive around the lot for 20 minutes until somebody left,” he said.
Richard and Joy Hodde, of Pottsville Penn., said the solution to the parking issue should come from the federal government.
But even as drivers debate solutions, they and VDOT agree that parking is a major obstacle that needs to be solved.
“For us, it’s a safety issue,” McGhee said. “We don’t want anyone who is fatigued to continue driving past the point where their attention isn’t fully on the roadway.”
The state has an obligation to help truckers follow the drive-time caps, she said.
“We have to do what we can on the infrastructure side to support those drivers to meet those requirements as best we can,” McGhee said.
A driver from Martinsburg, W.Va., who gave his name as Rusty Nail, said almost every single time he shuts down, he has trouble finding a parking spot due to lack of infrastructure.
“They need to be able to consider us drivers people instead of a number,” he said.