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Secretary Pete Buttigieg Delivers Remarks on Truck Parking in Salem, South Dakota

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Thank you! And what a pleasure to be with you. I want to thank everybody who’s part of this: Thank you to Carmen; thank you to Dean; thank you to America’s Road team—some of whom I got to see out West last year, some whom I’m just getting to know. And most importantly, thank you to America’s truck drivers. This Truck Driver Appreciation Week—and every week and every day in our country—that’s why we are here. And I want to recognize FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson, and thank her for her leadership and the terrific team at FMCSA for their life saving work that they do every day. And I want to recognize and appreciate Chris Spear with the ATA and Todd Spencer with OOIDA who you just heard from.

Last year, Chris and Todd got together to send a joint letter addressed to me on behalf of American trucking—which served to underscore both for me and for President Biden how urgent the need was for more and better truck parking. And on that issue and so many others, we appreciate your leadership, and we took that very seriously—which is part of why, in the year and a half since then, we have stepped up our work on the Truck Parking Coalition, and our efforts to encourage states and other decision-makers to make better use of infrastructure dollars to expand parking. So, know that you will continue to have a partner in the U.S. Department of Transportation, and I’m really glad we’re able to be here to celebrate projects like this one expanding truck parking nationwide. 

And I want to recognize the State DOT here as well for doing such important work. Thank you for the partnership that goes in to making all of this a reality.

But again, most importantly, happy Truck Driver Appreciation Week! I’m grateful for the chance to celebrate alongside everybody here, and to try help shine a national light on the importance of our truck drivers.

I think since COVID, people have come to pay more attention to how things get to where they need to be, and who gets them there. But we as a country still have a long way to go. So my basic message to the American people is: if you enjoyed the food you ate for breakfast, the clothes that you’re are wearing right now, or whatever device you’re using to watch these words being spoken, you have truck drivers to thank for that getting to you.

Everything that we count on every day—groceries, medicines, toys, books, livestock, that electrical equipment on Florence’s truck that I got to see, that truck load of beef jerky that just drove by which was whetting my appetite—all of that gets to where it goes thanks to America’s truck drivers. And we need to offer truck drivers support, not just in the form of thanks or words, but actions and funding. 

That’s what this is really about. We’re making sure that there are specific concrete policies and concrete investments (pun intended) that are going to help the men and women who do this work to strive in that career. And we’ve got to take every step we can to make sure that these jobs are sustainable, that they are safe, and that they are well compensated.

So under President Biden, our Administration is working hard to do just that. And the project we’re marking today is a great example of what that looks like in practical terms. 

I-90 is the longest interstate in the country. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that if you go about 700 miles that way and make two right turns, you’ll be at the house I grew up in in Indiana. It also represents the most highly traveled corridor in South Dakota—and trucks account for nearly a quarter of that traffic. But this is a highway that was built more than half a century ago. And that means that the pavement, the bridges, the other structures are often beyond their useful life, and very much in need of being updated. And this highway stretch in particular needs attention because it’s one of the most dangerous in the state—nearly 500 crashes in five years. 

So, in 2021, in one of the first rounds of discretionary grants that I had the pleasure of signing off on as Secretary, we awarded the South Dakota DOT $61.6 million through our INFRA program to restore 28 miles of I-90. That includes adding new pavement, replacing bridges that are functionally obsolete. It means upgrading guard rails and installing rumble strips—and of course, improving rest stops like the one where this funding, right here, has supported eleven new truck parking spaces. 

There’s a lot to love about this project: improving infrastructure that over 11,000 vehicles count on every day, strengthening supply chains for people, whether they live right here or 1,000 miles away, and making communities safer. But with this being Truck Driver Appreciation Week, I want to concentrate in particular, on what new truck parking means for drivers and for everybody who counts on this highway. 

I know that truck parking is an issue that most Americans probably don’t think about every day—but it’s vitally important one. And I want to say just a few words about why it ranks so highly on our list. Because I will tell you, across all the things our Department deals with—from hazardous materials shipments, to commercial space travel, to the operation of a Merchant Marine Academy, to the stuff you might think about more often with trains, planes, and automobiles—this is an issue that is absolutely on our radar every day

And that’s because it’s a life and death issue.

Many of you know about Jason’s law. Thirteen years ago, Jason Rivenburg was on a routine run in South Carolina, and had to pull over at a gas station to get some rest, and was killed there—shortly before his wife gave birth to their twins. That is a horrifying and heartbreaking thing that never should happen to anyone in this country.

But what’s especially troubling is that the details surrounding that case are very familiar to thousands of America truckers. What happened to Jason Rivenburg is that he was running ahead of schedule, and he wasn’t permitted to arrive at the delivery site until an hour before the designated time, which meant he had to come up with a place to park overnight—and there were not any good options around him. So he chose an abandoned gas station—not because that was an appealing place, but because that was his only choice.

And almost every driver in America is in a situation like that, including some of the drivers I was talking to today. They can describe being on a long drive, or maybe ahead of schedule, watching those hours tick by, having to pull over on the shoulder of a highway, or the side of an exit ramp, or a vacant lot somewhere in order to get some rest. 

Women in particular, who are already underrepresented in the industry, who deserve our support—and who I believe are a big part of the solution of how we call more people from the next generation of drivers—women often report that they are less likely to bring their talents and skills to this line of work if they can’t find a safe, secure place to rest during a long trip. 

And even if a driver doesn’t encounter violence, like what happened to Jason, there are many other ways that the lack of truck parking is dangerous. Other drivers are more likely to crash into a truck parked on the side of a road. Most highway shoulders aren’t designed for heavy vehicles to be parked there for hours at a time, meaning that they take damage, and that makes the whole roadway less safer for anybody who uses it. And of course, knowing the importance of rest in the first place, if truckers can’t find a safe and restful place to rest, then driver fatigue comes into play. And it is fatigue that causes the majority of fatal truck crashes every year. 

And yet, 98% of drivers report that they haven’t been able to find safe truck parking, which cost them time and money. It makes our roads less safe. And it’s weakening our supply chains. 

So that’s why we’ve put such a focus on this urgent problem. And that’s we’ve taken the actions that we have taken. And as I said earlier, ATA and OOIDA—the two best known voices of the trucking industry— came together on this issue and fought to get something done. President Biden heard that call. We heard that call. And now, we have more funding than ever before to support safe truck parking around the nation. 

Which brings me to a bit of exciting news that I have to share which is the latest step we’ve taken. Today, we are announcing over $80 million in grants to improve highway safety—including access to truck parking—the country through FMCSA.

And that’s alongside investments we’ve already made, that include $23 million in Texas for a truck parking plaza with fencing, restrooms, and showers in Caldwell County; we’ve got $15 million headed to I-4 between Tampa and Orlando to get 120 new truck parking spaces there; $10 million for a truck parking facility in Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, which includes charging stations that can power heating and cooling systems, so less idling, which also saves truck drivers money; and much more where that came from. 

And the most important part of all of this, again—just like the most important part of our supply chains is the people we count on—one of the best parts of my job is getting to spend time with those people that we count on every day. From the driver I met in Long Beach who was explaining issues they face getting in and out of the port; I had a similar conversation in a ride along at the Port of New York and New Jersey; to veterans in Pennsylvania who I talked with about the career that they were pursuing and how we can support them getting into driving; to Illinois, where I did a ride along with a driver who knew she wanted to be a driver, and waited 20 years while she had a health care career, until she felt that her kids were grown enough for her to go out on the road, and did what she truly loved and had been looking forward to that entire time, which is to become a driver. And so many others.

This isn’t just a listening exercise. This is turning into action, just like what we’re seeing here. And we know there’s a long way to go, which is why we’re spending so much time and energy thickening those communication channels, so we can continue drawing those insights and continue making the case.

So again, I want to thank everybody who’s a part of this effort. And most importantly, on behalf of the American people, I want to thank the truck drivers we count on day-in and day-out to get everything we need, when and where we need it.

Thank you again for the chance to be with you.