The head of a national owner-operator truckers' group predicts as many as 500 trucks will converge on Washington, D.C., this morning to bring attention to the plight of owner-operators and the trucking industry.
The National Owner Operator Trucking Assn., formerly a regional group in New Jersey, hopes taking the convoys to the nation's capital the week before the presidential election will get the attention of the media and the American people
as owner-operators are forced out of business by high fuel prices.
RoadStar Editor at Large Bette Garber is riding in a dump truck with NOOTA Vice President John Grasso in a convoy coming from Jessup, Md., this morning. She reports the trucks are decorated with signs such as, "When the trucks stop what's next," and "Overworked, overtaxed."
NOOTA executive director Charles Hentz rode along with the first convoy, which left West Memphis, Ark., early yesterday morning. After overnighting in Raphine, Va., last night, the convoy is meeting up with other area truckers and heading into the capital via the 14th Street Bridge.
Another convoy left Columbus, Ohio, yesterday and met up with the Memphis convoy. Another convoy headed out from Florida last night. Convoys from New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania are converging in Jessup, Md., and heading south on I-95 this morning.
A rally will be held at the corner of 3rd Street and Madison on the Mall in front of the Capitol. Truckers will talk about how high fuel prices are affecting them. "One young fellow said this is his last trip," Hentz said. "There's a good possiblity he will put the keys under the mat and tell the finance company to come pick the truck up in Washington.
"No matter how bad business is, the government still takes that tax," Hentz said. "It's going to have to stop. I want to ask Bill Clinton, do you really feel these guys' pain?"
Hentz said the convoy from West Memphis was "absolutely unbelievable." Within 20 miles of leaving West Memphis on I-40, Hentz said, the convoy totalled an estimated 300 trucks, riding in the right lane at about 50 mph. They soon attracted the attention of the Tennessee Highway Patrol. When several patrol cars boxed in the lead truck Hentz was riding in and pulled it over, all the trucks in the convoy stopped. Some very frustrated officers eventually gave up and left.
Not long afterwards, the second truck in the convoy was pulled over. Again, the convoy stopped. This time they were blocking both lanes of traffic and the breakdown lane, and the traffic backed up for 40 miles, Hentz said. After a short discussion, the convoy was allowed to proceed.
In Nashville, the convoy circled the city on I-40 and I-65. "When I came back out onto 40, I almost caught up with the back truck," Hentz said. "The convoy was 10 miles long."
There were fewer than 100 trucks by the time the group got to Virginia. "The guys have been breaking off going in other directions, others have been coming in," Hentz said. "That's the whole intention here. We don't want anyone losing a day's pay."
However, when spoke with Hentz last night, he was expecting quite a few more truckers to join the convoy during its overnight in Raphine or in the morning on the way to the capital. One small fleet owner told Hentz he planned to bring all 30 of his trucks; another trucker left the convoy to lead another half-dozen truckers in from Georgia. "We have guys coming in from all over the place," Hentz said.
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