The Infrastructure Bill Could Fix Trucking for the Long Haul

As the country explores major infrastructure investments, urban truck ports have the potential to increase the fuel efficiency of trucks, reduce air pollution, and improve the lives of truckers who deliver our critical goods.

President Biden has laid out the most important vision for infrastructure development in the United States since President Eisenhower. Ike’s belief in the potential of motorized vehicles was a self-fulfilling prophecy that transformed the economy and landscape of the nation. The interstate system that he began became the physical architecture for the nation’s growth—knitting the country together and delivering incredible economic benefits.

Despite those benefits, the system came at great cost, particularly to the nation’s cities and many of the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. It also increased dependence on oil and wreaked a significant environmental toll.

In addition to these challenges, the system has been woefully neglected for decades—a reality that Biden’s historic investment recognizes. But in order to truly build back better, we can’t simply repair, replace, and enlarge. We need to leverage the assets we have to improve the system’s efficiency.

The costs of inefficiency are borne by many. Truckers work the hours of two jobs, with many of those hours unpaid, and spend weeks away from loved ones. Communities of color bear the cost of poor air quality from trucks that use old technology and burn nothing but diesel fuel. And commuters waste endless hours in traffic that trucks contribute to.

For years, the trucking industry has been asking for additional truck parking. The need for it is obvious to anyone who has driven our nation’s interstates and seen the growing lines of trucks parked on exit ramps.

The federal government should build this parking—paid for by an additional tax on diesel. But this parking shouldn’t be built in the middle of nowhere. It should be built at the points of congestion that circle most major cities.

These lots, what I call “urban truck ports,” could provide the physical architecture to solve numerous problems. First, we would keep trucks out of congestion and allow for off-peak delivery. Rather than crawling through rush hour and then waiting for hours to have their truck loaded, truckers could drop their trailer and head back where they came from. After rush hour, an electric truck would finish the delivery.

Truck ports would dramatically improve trucking jobs and retain more truck drivers, solving a “driver shortage” problem that carriers are often complaining about. Splitting up trips like this would also allow companies to increase the utilization of their trucks, which often run for just 7 or 8 hours a day on public roads—the time they can generate revenue.

Multiple shifts in the same truck would allow companies to invest in the best technology for the driving conditions: electric trucks for urban driving and super aerodynamic trucks for interstate driving. This would dramatically increase the fuel efficiency of tractor trailers and reduce both GHG emissions and the air pollution that plagues poor communities. Each truck port would also be the perfect location to install electric charging infrastructure and clean fuel stations for the heaviest liquid fuel users on the road.

A national network of urban truck ports would improve the jobs of truckers, advance equity in our goods movement system, and fundamentally shift the economics of investing in clean truck technology. Urban truck ports would be a lasting legacy of an infrastructure bill that could meet the challenges of today while setting the stage for a better transportation future.

You can learn more about truck ports on our website.

Steve Viscelli

Lecturer, Department of Sociology
Steve Viscelli is a faculty fellow at the Kleinman Center and a lecturer in the Department of Sociology. His research focuses on work, labor market economics, and economic regulation, specifically in trucking industry.