Remarkable Hope

This is a story about how one remarkable woman started a much-needed movement to improve the safety and save the lives of truck drivers throughout our nation.

In 2014, I was handed a project I did not want to do; take over and finish the Jason’s Law Truck Parking Study for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), as required by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21).

I already had a full plate of projects, vacation coming up, kids at home, and my husband was deployed the summer this happened. It was a busy time, and I was feeling the stress of working mom life.

Though, I knew all too well the problems of truck parking shortages from my time as Director of Freight for the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). Maryland had truck parking problems, which even resulted in the death of a state trooper that hit a parked truck on a highway shoulder.

This study was important, but I had pressing projects.  I most certainly gave my team lead one of my classic eye rolls and a few opinions about my workload!

Begrudgingly, I took on the project, and it was not long before I was struck by the herculean efforts of the remarkable woman behind this Jason’s Law Study, Hope Rivenburg.

More about her in a minute.

If you are not familiar with Jason’s Law, this law is named for truck driver, Jason Rivenburg, who was murdered on March 5, 2008, while parking in an area he thought was safe after being unable to find adequate parking.  Jason’s Law was crafted into MAP-21 and requires the United States Department of Transportation to routinely study truck parking. We published the inaugural report in 2015.

Many people in the wake of becoming a widow might find themselves paralyzed in grief.

Not Hope.

Those of us who work in public policy know the ebbs and flows of policymaking and how change is challenging. Passing laws or moving the needle on issues can take years. Usually, changes are incremental. Pieces of a grand policy vision are accomplished whenever policy windows open and close.

Hope was determined to effect change.  From upstate New York and with no prior experience, she turned her grief into a grassroots effort, Jason’s Law, that would light the fire of truck parking issues for years to come.  In three years, she accomplished the rarity of getting a law passed in Jason’s name to improve truck parking. With assistance from Congressman Paul Tonko, as well as other legislators, Jason’s Law was crafted into the MAP-21 Surface Transportation Authorization, with truck parking eligible for funding and a routine study of parking shortages required by USDOT. President Obama signed this into law in 2012.

In time, I realized that the project I did not want to do was a privilege, and that perhaps I was right where I was supposed to be to help make Jason’s Law a reality, along with several other women and men who seemed to be brought together for this reason.

A highlight was having the opportunity to meet Hope when her family and she travelled to Washington, D.C. for the official release of the inaugural Jason’s Law in 2015.  Standing there in her crisp, white jacket, this woman, a D.C. novice, spoke with a confidence, sense of determination, and get-your-attention-matter-of-factness that hit right at all our hearts.  Jason would not be forgotten, and we were responsible to make sure of it.

Since then, the truck parking discussion in the United States has evolved. A success of Jason’s Law is the ensuing National Coalition on Truck Parking for stakeholders to work together on solutions. Also, people are talking about it, States and locals are doing studies and plans, it is now required in state freight plans, truck parking projects are coming online, and there are other solutions like non-traditional parking options and information systems implemented or planned.

However, that is not enough. Demand for parking has never been greater, and challenges increase with economic growth.  Many stakeholders, especially drivers, may not perceive positive change. We have so much to do.

Truck parking is one of the most complicated, multi-faceted, and challenging policy problems, not easily solved. It takes the work of diverse stakeholders tailoring solutions and creatively finding ways to increase capacity while convincing communities to support the drivers, that many do not realize are integral to their daily lives.

Sometimes, the effort seems futile, and I, like many others, get frustrated when we cannot do more.  When this happens, I try to think of Remarkable Hope, the movement this incredible woman started sixteen years ago, and I keep truckin.’

Nicole Katsikides, Ph.D., is a Senior Transportation Specialist at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). She has also served as a researcher for the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Deputy Director at Maryland State Highway Administration, Program Manager for the Federal Highway Administration Office of Freight Management and Operations, and Director of Freight for Maryland Department of Transportation.

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