When it comes to fighting tolls on I-95, NATSO members Rex Davis and Ernie Brame are leading the way. Spearheading grassroots campaigns in their home states of Virginia and North Carolina, they draw attention to the effect tolls on I-95 will have on drivers, highway-based businesses and the communities in which they operate.
Brame, general manager of Kenly 95 Petro in Kenly, N.C., said, “If you don’t stand up for your own interest, don’t expect anybody to do it for you.”
Brame has taken on a leadership role in the fight and now serves as the chairman of the No Tolls on I-95 Coalition, a grassroots alliance of residents, businesses and local governments fighting to keep I-95 toll free. Brame said the role of chairman was not something he was looking for, but that it is necessary. His grassroots efforts are paying off.
Last year North Carolina passed a bill that will delay any tolling action on I-95 for two years. In addition, federal legislation has been introduced. “We’ve also gotten a seat on the I-95 Economic Study Board. We had to bully our way onto that board because they didn’t want us on there,” Brame said.
In Virginia, Davis, president of Davis Oil Co. that operates Davis Travel Centers, is also leading the fight against tolls on I-95. Davis has invested in billboards and a tractor-trailer that spread the notoll message. Inside his locations, he encourages customers to sign a petition and even broadcasts the message to those at the pump.
Davis said the fight is a group effort and applauded his employees hard work. His fleet relations manager, Sylvia Hawkins, who also serves as a member of Town Council for Stony Creek, along with her husband, Frank Jackson, who is also the mayor of Stony Creek, have taken an active role in the campaign. “Frank actually drove the big truck to Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention and has played a very vital role in organizing the effort of local citizenry to oppose the tolls,” Davis said.
Davis said he’s seeing results from the combined efforts. “We’ve had numerous municipalities and counties coming out against to tolls. The Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Association of Counties and leadership in the state legislature have all come out against tolls,” he said. “While we’ve had successes, it’s been bittersweet because we still haven’t gotten the governor to change his mind.”
To keep up the momentum, Davis is spreading his message to the media that his family-run business will suffer “tremendously” if tolls are imposed on I-95. “It is bad public policy, bad for business and bad for the Commonwealth,” he told reporters. “There is nothing about the I-95 toll plan that makes sense, and the application submitted by the governor actually affirms many of the reasons that people oppose the I-95 toll plan.”
Davis and his fellow grassroots activists are working to get legislation introduced in Virginia’s next legislative session in January. “We’re working with several different lawmakers and trying to select the one who has the greatest chance of passing the bill,” Davis said.
Both Brame and Davis said they’ve learned a great deal from their grassroots involvement, which they’re eager to share with fellow operators.
“My advice to others is to be open minded and extremely flexible. Don’t be reluctant to share ideas,” Davis said.
“I’ve learned I’m an activist and that the government is truly by the people,” Brame said. “I’ve also learned that ‘no’ is not always the final answer.”
See Members in Action
Davis and Brame are taking their anti-tolling message to the media. To see them in action, check out their interviews on the following websites:
This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazine. Stop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.
The magazine is mailed to NATSO members bimonthly. If you are a member and not receiving Stop Watch, submit a request to be added to the mailing list. Not a member? Join today or submit a request to receive additional information.
Subscribe to Updates
NATSO provides a breadth of information created to strengthen travel plazas’ ability to meet the needs of the travelling public in an age of disruption. This includes knowledge filled blog posts, articles and publications. If you would like to receive a digest of blog post and articles directly in your inbox, please provide your name, email and the frequency of the updates you want to receive the email digest.