It takes a village to build a truck stop

A high school just three blocks from Interstate 5 in Washington will serve as a 24-hour rest stop for truck drivers, in hopes of revitalizing a small-town economy while providing overworked drivers with basic services during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re ready to receive. We are open for business,” said Eric Hansen, a Woodland, Washington, resident who spearheaded the effort to open the site.

Woodland, population 6,138, is about 30 miles north of Portland, Oregon.

The high school, shuttered to students and faculty because of the COVID-19 pandemic, opened its doors to truckers on Tuesday. The repurposed site includes 30 parking spaces, Hansen said, as well as a gymnasium and track — so drivers can exercise — and a concession space hosting six food vendors, several of which are local.

Mirroring the devastation that has hit the restaurant industry around the country, Woodland’s dining venues have been forced to close, and may not be able to recover unless their owners find new customers, according to Hansen.

“What we’re trying to do is to help the truckers but also pump revenue into the economy,” he said, adding that local restaurants as well as regional and national chains continue to inquire about setting up an outpost at the high school. “They are chomping at the bit.”

The trucking industry is responsible for transporting the majority of goods and products our communities rely on each day, Woodland Public Schools Superintendent Michael Green said in a press statement. “Providing the men and women who drive these trucks a place to rest and relax is vital in ensuring every community will receive the deliveries they need in this time of COVID-19 prevention.”

Darlene Johnson, co-owner of Woodland Truck Line, a general freight and truckload business, said the need for a local truck stop is “huge.”

On an average day, she said, around 6,000 trucks drive by the community.

Around 70 volunteers have contributed to the truck stop initiative, according to Hansen, a retail marketing manager for a Fortune 50 technology company. He said he got the idea for the site after watching a video about truck stops shutting down or limiting services at a time when they are desperately needed.

He hopes the Washington State Department of Transportation will post an electronic sign letting drivers know the new rest area is open. He has also notified the Washington and Oregon truckers associations.

“People want to support it,” Hansen said. “And we want it to go viral.”

The collective effort is a sign that “people are appreciating truck drivers a little more than they used to,” Johnson believes. “I think we’re getting back to truckers as ‘knights of the road.’”