Trucker-turned-politician proposes bill honoring Alaska drivers

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An Alaska state senator and professional driver is sponsoring a Truck Driver Appreciation Day Act to permanently recognize truck drivers for their service.

Robert Myers Jr. (R) champions Senate Bill 150, on the second Monday of every September, Truck Drivers Appreciation Day. This would coincide with the American Trucking Associations National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, a celebration that is usually marked with events and recognition for individual fleet drivers.

Myers’ idea for the law originated last September, when truckers in Alaska were enjoyed with free donuts at weigh stations or barbecues that many couldn’t attend due to driving. Around this time, Alaskans sent Myers photos of empty store shelves due to supply chain issues. Its district includes the city of North Pole and North Fairbanks.

Who supports the bill?

Truck Driver Appreciation Day has the bipartisan support of half of the Alaska Senate. The co-sponsors are:

Republicans — Mia Costello, Roger Holland, Shelley Hughes, Peter Micciche, Lora Reinbold, Mike Shower and Gary Stevens

Democrats —Elvi Gray-Jackson, Scott Kawasaki and Jesse Kiehl

Alaska Trucking Association executive director Joe Michel said the legislation is an easy bill to pass “in these controversial times.” He testified on February 15 in support of the legislation along with Philip Whitlatch, a member of the association’s board of directors and transport driver supervisor for Crowley Fuels.

“When you have an accident on a lonely stretch of highway,” Whitlatch said, “of course you wait for the police and the fire department to show up, but usually the first people who are going to be there, there will be truckers to assist you and help you deal with all the shock of an incident on our road network.

Although the truckers can be seen on the roads, Myers said they don’t have high-profile public interactions and are “unsung heroes” happy to provide a vital public service. Their service has been demonstrated during the pandemic.

Myers noted that Alaska has experienced ongoing severe shortages in the supply chain, as evidenced by empty shelves in December and January due to bad weather in British Columbia that made truck travel difficult.

Alaska truckers transport goods ranging from fresh produce to equipment for the oil and mining industries. (Office of Senator Robert Myers)

“Driver shortages are causing more pressure on our truck drivers,” he said. “We want to show the appreciation they more than deserve. They are literally the engine of Alaska’s economy.

Myers said 95% of general cargo brought into Alaska is moved on barges, but the trucks carry goods ranging from fresh produce to equipment for the oil and mining industries.

Unless they’re heading to the “Lower 48s” via British Columbia, Alaskan drivers are usually two or three days away from home – not days or weeks compared to drivers in Alaska. other states, Myers said.

However, Alaskan truckers regularly face extreme weather conditions, drive mostly on gravel roads, can travel 100 miles on tire chains, and dodge animals not cars.

Michel praised Myers as “a good ambassador for the trucking industry” and a “humble guy” who beat out a longtime incumbent. In 2020, Myers won by 14 votes over John Coghill Jr., who served 12 years in the state Senate and 10 years in the House.

Michel also expressed his high regard for Myers’ truck driving skills on the dangerous Dalton Road (haul road) leading to the Arctic Ocean, mostly in gravel. Advised to bring survival gear and propane tanks, truckers driving the isolated 414-mile route should watch out for moose and herds of caribou and muskoxen.

The haul road

The haul road, technically Alaska Highway 11 or the James W. Dalton Highway, was built in 1974 as a supply route for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. It begins in Livengood, about 80 miles north of Fairbanks, and stretches 414 miles to Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean. Only a quarter of the road has a hardtop. The remaining 75% is gravel.

Source: University of Alaska — Museum of the North

Myers said he punched four moose, each weighing more than 1,000 pounds, and once destroyed his radiator in the process.

He frequently drives Haul Road, where his cellphone is out of reach for 11 hours and there are only two gas stations. He said he made between $1,000 and $1,400 for 2 and a half days of work on the Haul route bringing equipment to the Alaska pipeline at Prudhoe Bay.

He brings a full set of tools, extra food and water, and winter clothing, including insulated suits. It’s the treacherous winter weather and storms that his wife worries about, not the 50-60 degree summer temperatures. If his truck breaks down during the winter, he has to wait inside for several hours because he could freeze to death outside in temperatures below 50 degrees which could feel below 90 degrees due to wind chill .

His career as a professional driver began in college when he worked four months a year on a tour bus. After college, Myers, a Fairbanks native, needed a steady job and turned to truck driving. He is the father of five children aged 2 to 9 years old.

He said the best part of driving a truck is experiencing Alaska’s varied landscapes and wildlife. As a senator, he must alternate between careers that have almost nothing in common.

“Trucking involves physical activity. A lot of times I don’t talk to anyone, just me and the audiobooks,” he said. “In the Legislative Assembly, there are a lot of interruptions and discussions. There is less mobility and it is emotionally demanding.

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