COVID-19 pandemic: Rest stops must remain open, trucking stakeholders contend
Washington — Transportation officials and a trucking industry group are calling for highway rest stops to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic to help ensure the safety and well-being of commercial motor vehicle drivers, especially those transporting items intended to assist in relief efforts.
In a March 17 letter sent to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear asks that the federal government keep rest stops open. On March 23, Federal Highway Administration Administrator Nicole Nason sounded a similar call in a letter to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials President Patrick McKenna.
“Closing rest areas where professional drivers can rest may risk the safe and timely delivery of medical supplies, food and other essential goods,” Nason writes. “As we all work to stem the tide of this outbreak, let us also continue to facilitate the safe, efficient and seamless transport of critical supplies across the nation.”
The requests came as multiple states decided to close their rest stops. On March 16, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation shuttered 35 interstate rest stops, including parking access. Two days later, however, in response to pushback from industry stakeholders, the department announced 13 of its facilities would reopen.
During the pandemic, ATA is tracking state declarations concerning various trucking issues, including parking and rest stop availability. As of April 1, three states – Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania – had enacted partial closures of rest stops. ATA notes that although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration lacks preemptive authority over states that elect to close rest stops, the agency is “working closely with the states to ensure adequate truck parking and facilities are available.”
According to a March 17 report from Transportation Nation Network, FMCSA acting administrator Jim Mullen sent a letter that same day to NATSO (formerly known as the National Association of Truck Stop Operators) President and CEO Lisa Mullings, demanding that rest stops remain open.
“As the nation continues to come to grips with the realities of COVID-19, I am writing to let you know that [FMCSA] recognizes the integral role that travel centers and truck stops play in the nation’s supply chain,” Mullen writes. “All of your members must heed the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines and follow state and local restrictions. In the coming weeks and months, it will be critical that these businesses remain open, 24 hours per day, providing America’s truck drivers with fuel, food, showers, repair services and opportunities to rest.”
A day before Mullen sent his letter, Mullings issued a statement confirming that member facilities remain open.
“Truck drivers are depending on truck stops and travel centers as they deliver food and life-saving supplies,” Mullings said in a March 16 press release. “As the nation confronts the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s travel centers and truck stops are committed to remaining open and serving America’s drivers.”
FMCSA on March 18 issued an expanded national emergency declaration granting temporary exemption from federal hours-of-service regulations to CMV drivers transporting items intended to assist in COVID-19 relief efforts.