Transportation Officials Mum on Truckers' Plans to Clog Washington

Protesters say they'll cause congestion on Washington's Beltway starting Friday, but state transportation leaders aren't saying much about how they'll respond.
by | October 8, 2013

Transportation officials in the greater Washington, D.C., region are not saying much about how will respond to a protest by truckers who plan on congesting the Capital Beltway Friday through Sunday.

A group known as "Truckers Ride for the Constitution" plans to intentionally clog up the Capital Beltway starting Friday morning to bring attention to a slew of grievances they have with the federal government, including low trucker pay and high gas prices.

In an interview with U.S. News and World Report, Earl Conlon, who was helping to coordinate the event, said the group will circle the roadway, taking up three lanes of traffic and leaving the left lane open for emergency vehicles. For other drivers -- except those who have a sticker indicating support for the cause -- it will be "nobody in, nobody out," he said.

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He said the group is seeking to arrest some lawmakers, and if police interfere with the convoy, the truckers will stop on the highway and form a "road block."

The Capital Beltway surrounds Washington, D.C. and runs through Virginia and Maryland. It's one of the most congested corridors in the country.

Conlon's comments drew controversy among some of the group's participants and organizers, some of whom have said he doesn't speak for them, noting they are not seeking arrests or the type or roadway blockages he portrayed. Conlon has subsequently said the protest is still planned but blockage of the roadway isn't happening, and the threats were just designed to get media attention, the Washington Post reported.

At this point, it's unclear what, exactly, the truckers have planned. The organizers of the protest include include Pete Santilli, an online radio host who has called for the execution of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Zeeda Andrews, a former country singer.

On his radio show Tuesday, Santilli said thousands of vehicles may participate. Andrews did not respond to multiple messages seeking clarification on the nature of the protest.

Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, had little to say about the situation. "Obviously, we'll be monitoring it," she said. Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, was also tight-lipped. "We're aware of the convoy," Geller said. "At this point, we're not commenting on our preparations or plans."

In a follow-up email, Geller added that the Virginia state police "are preparing accordingly with the region’s law enforcement agencies, just as we have done in the past for similar demonstrations held within the National Capital Region." She noted that if the vehicles comply with state law, then the police won't interfere.

Sgt. Marc Black, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said the agency is aware of the planned protest and is "prepared to handle any incident that occurs." But, he noted, if truckers aren't impeding traffic, there's not much the police can do.

Some Washington-area residents have criticized the truckers, saying their protest will simply disrupt everyday people who are trying to get to work or otherwise travel in the region.

"Why are you punishing the people who live in the Washington, D.C. area?" Michael Gandolfo, who lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington, wrote on the group's Facebook page. "Is it not bad enough that many of us are furloughed and have no income? Now, we have to be trapped in our homes because the highways are intentionally clogged up by rednecks pretending to be activists."

Gandolfo -- who is a federal employee but has not been furloughed -- tells Governing he has a pregnant wife and worries how the extra traffic could impact traffic in the event of an emergency.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade association, distanced itself from the protest, which is made up of indepdent drivers.

"The individuals leading this particular effort have no direct affiliation with trucking and appear to be using truckers in order to gain media attention and air political grievances," the association said in a statement. "We do not support assembling in an unlawful, unpermitted manner, committing crimes, making threats on our lawmakers, or behaving in such a way to cast safe, professional truck drivers in a negative light."

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