by Erik Vargas and Okan Gurbuz
In its 2020 Texas Statewide Truck Parking Study, the Texas Department of Transportation noted that trucks carrying 1.2 billion tons of freight worth $1.7 trillion each year in the Lone Star State. That means 140,000 trucks must park somewhere in the state every day for drivers to rest and sleep. Noted in the study, truck volume is expected to grow by some 80 percent by 2040, making today’s shortage of truck parking facilities a crisis down the road.
Since it had never been done before, our research team at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research (CIITR) wanted to study this issue from a border perspective. In short, is there a parking issue with truckers crossing between Mexico and the United States in the El Paso region?
Using INRIX data, we analyzed the travel of heavy duty vehicles making cross-border trips and learned that nearly 80 percent of those trucks are destined for local warehouses in El Paso. Unlike longer-haul freight movement, when a trucker must find parking to rest, trucks in the El Paso region often make multiple cross-border trips a day. Think of the city itself as a kind of “distribution center” for Mexican goods and products destined for markets in the United States. Trucks drop off loads in El Paso, then head back to Mexico to pick up more freight and make the same trip again.
So, while parking isn’t an issue as it is in other parts of the state, parking at warehouses can be when too many trucks try to take advantage of finite parking capacity. Historically, TTI has conducted research to better inform manufacturers, regulatory agencies and the traveling public about congestion along travel routes. That helps them better plan their trips around known congestion times, resulting in enhanced mobility, more reliable travel times, and reduced frustration on roadways. And now we’re aiming to use the same kind of data-driven approach to help local warehouses better manage capacity to meet parking demands.
Analyzing satellite images rapidly with AI algorithms trained by our researchers to track freight, we can 1) establish truck travel patterns across the border and 2) determine if wait times at border crossings correlate with warehousing occupancy. Through data analysis, we can identify trends like how parking at local warehouses fluctuates from day to day and what roads those trucks use to get to those destinations. So, on days where truck traffic is heavy, what roads are they using, and are there opportunities to re-route them to alleviate bottlenecks on local roadways? That’s just one of the questions we’re looking to answer as we continue our research.
We’re just now pioneering the application of this kind of high-volume data-driven image analysis, but the potential to reduce congestion, increase the efficiency of goods movement, and optimize warehousing capacity is coming into focus. Every year satellite images get sharper, AI algorithms get smarter, and the data we analyze gets richer.
Once we have a clearer picture of what cross-border freight movement in El Paso looks like, we can share it with manufacturers and shippers to potentially improve efficiency and lower costs associated with warehouses that have too little capacity on a given day. And lower costs upstream can translate to lower costs for consumers on store shelves.
Erik Vargas is an associate transportation researcher and Okan Gurbuz is an associate research scientist with the Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research in TTI’s El Paso Office.