“’Trucker bombs’ — discarded bottles of urine — foul roadsides in N.D. oil patch,” the headline read. And the Associated Press story immediately went viral — picked up by hundreds of news outlets throughout the U.S. and as far away as the United Kingdom.
“Trucker bombs,” jugs of urine tossed to the roadside by truckers, have long been a public relations nightmare for the industry. And the lack of truck parking in the state of North Dakota has brought the issue into the spotlight again.
“Along the wide-open expanses and rolling prairie of western North Dakota surrounding the state’s booming oil patch, all sorts of bizarre litter can be found clogging the once picturesque roadside: Derelict hardhats, single boots, buckets, pallets, pieces of machinery, shredded semi tires, oily clothing, cigarette butts,” the story lead reads. “The worst? Plastic jugs of urine pitched out windows as scores of truckers pass through oil country.”
The problem of trucker pee bottles has escalated since the state shut down highway rest areas due to lack of funds for upkeep. The lack of truck parking was exacerbated in North Dakota by the oil boom that has brought thousands more trucks to the area daily.
The number of trucking companies operating in North Dakota increased by 600 last year to about 6,000, with most working in the oil patch, according to Tom Balzer, executive vice president of the North Dakota Motor Carriers Assn. Nearly 100 new trucking companies were established in January alone, he said.
There are only three rest stops along the hundreds of miles of highway in western North Dakota, Balzer, told the AP. “Until there are more truckstops or rest areas on the much-traveled route, the jugs will probably still be tossed by truckers.”
There’s the rub: the state doesn’t have the funds to add truck parking. The only funding they’ve invested in the problem went to upgrading mowing tractors with cabs to protect operators from getting sprayed with urine when the jugs are hit by a wheel or blade.
The “trucker bomb” issue is the suspected reason membership has dropped in the state’s Adopt-a-Highway Program in the area, Walt Peterson, a North Dakota Transportation Dept. district engineer in Williston told the news service. Even though state officials recommend that volunteers stay clear of the jugs and leave them to state maintenance crews to clean up, volunteering is a tough sell. “For one, the jugs are repulsive. Two, they can explode under pressure from heat,” the news report points out.
“It is a huge issue, but one of the biggest problems is there isn’t lot of places for these guys to stop to properly dispose of the receptacles,” Balzer said. “I don’t know that it’s a case of being disrespectful but of the unbelievable growth out there.”
The lack of truck parking isn’t a problem isolated to North Dakota oil country. States throughout the U.S. have been closing more and more rest areas in recent years due to budgetary constraints.
A measure to help with the truck parking issue is currently languishing in Congress as part of the Highway Bill. “Jason’s Law” wasn’t drafted to deal with the “trucker bomb” problem — although if passed, it will help. It’s a plan to create more safe truck parking on the national network, named in honor of Jason Rivenburg, a trucker who was murdered at an abandoned gas station in 2009 after he could not find a safer place to park his truck.
The Jason’s Law provision expands potential funding sources for parking and, most importantly, identifies parking as a safety priority on the level with guardrails and stop signs. “It is the sense of Congress that it is a national priority to address projects under this section for the shortage of long-term parking for commercial motor vehicles on the National Highway System to improve the safety of motorized and non-motorized users and for commercial motor vehicle operators,” the bill reads.
Hopefully, for the sake of individual driver safety and the entire industry’s image, Jason’s Law will move forward soon.