Port Allen truck stop plans project to reduce pollution

A project that will help prevent the release of 19 tons of pollutants into the air every year will soon begin construction in Port Allen.

A company called IdleAir will be installing 36 long-haul truck parking spots at Cash’s Truck Plaza in August where drivers can hook up to air conditioning, television, internet and electrical power without having to keep their trucks running.

Although a 19-ton reduction in nitrogen oxide releases may not sound like much, every little bit helps when the five-parish Baton Rouge metro area continues to work toward meeting an ever-tougher federal ozone standard, said Michael Vince, senior scientist with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Ozone pollution is not directly released from cars or industry, but is instead a process in which nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds combine in the air during hot, sunny days. When there is little wind to dissipate this mixture, ozone levels can rise and can cause breathing and other health problems, especially for vulnerable groups like children or people with pre-existing conditions.

The five-parish area of East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Livingston, Iberville and Ascension is the only area in Louisiana that currently doesn’t meet the 75 parts per billion eight-hour average standard most recently set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Vince said. However, he said, some other areas of the state are nearing that limit.

The five-parish area has until 2015 to meet the new standard of 75 parts per billion.

“We have to get as many emission reductions as we can,” Vince said.

Although nitrogen oxide releases from industrial sources that come under DEQ’s jurisdiction have been falling, Vince said, it’s likely not going to be enough.

Other sources of nitrogen oxides, like cars and trucks, will likely need to be considered in the future, he said.

Voluntary programs like the long-haul truck idle-free parking spaces planned at Cash’s Truck Plaza in Port Allen are going to need to be a part of that solution, he said.

In addition to the nitrogen oxide, the project also will help reduce the release of 1,666 tons of carbon monoxide and half a ton of particulate matter, small pieces of soot that can cause breathing and other health issues.

“We know we’ve got to continue to get emission reductions into the future,” Vince said. “We need other sites like this to be built along the I-10 corridor.”

Jeff Tuck, chief operating officer with IdleAir, said his company has been looking for more locations in Louisiana, but it’s difficult to find truck stops large enough to make the system work.

“The problem is finding locations,” he said.

The system helps with air quality not just for the surrounding area in general, but at the trucks stop specifically, he said.

Imagine 200 or 300 long-haul trucks in some of the larger truck stops idling their way through the night as drivers try to get their required rest before continuing on their way.

“The atmosphere is physically gross,” Tuck said. “IdleAir, we are here to clean the air obviously, but equally important we want to improve the lives of the truck drivers.”

The system the company uses was developed by engineers at the University of Tennessee several years ago. Tuck said the company has grown as it attracted new investors and is now building a site to a site and a half every month.

“At this point, we’re turning away drivers because we don’t have enough capacity,” Tuck said.

In addition, the system saves truckers money. Keeping a truck idling costs a driver about $5 an hour and burns a gallon of diesel fuel every hour, not to mention the wear and tear on the engines.

Instead, drivers can hook up to this system, turn off their truck and pay $2.19 an hour for every hour up to 10 and then $1.69 for every hour after that, Tuck said.

There was mixed reaction to plans for the new system from the few truck drivers at Cash’s Tuesday afternoon.

Scott Olson, 43, who was filling up his truck before heading back to Tulsa, Okla., said he tried the system years ago and it didn’t work for him. The configuration of Olson’s truck cab is such that the curtain used to separate the living area from where the services are hooked into the window meant the services weren’t usable. He drives at night and sleeps during the day, so having the curtains closed is important.

However, he said some larger truck cabs are set up differently and the system works for them.

“I know you can’t please everyone every time,” he said.

Donald Lee, 37, of Shreveport and owner of JDV Auto Transport, said he’s seen the system before but personally doesn’t have a use for it.

“I’ve never used one. To me, if I’m going to spend the night I’m going to get a hotel room,” he said.

However, he said, he can see the pros and cons of the system. Idling is hard on the engine and it costs money to burn fuel for that long to get a night’s sleep.

“The principle is good,” he said. “It’s a lot easier on the truck.”

The project at Cash’s Truck Plaza will cost about $400,000 and is being paid for in part by a $200,000 state grant received by the Greater Baton Rouge Clean Cities Coalition. DEQ received the funding through the Clean Diesel Grant Program as part of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.