Trucker protest circles Beltway, but causes no major delays, authorities say


A group of truckers travels on 1-95 towards I-495 in Springfield, Va., on Friday. (Luis M. Alvarez/AP)

Police authorities in Maryland and Virginia reported no major incidents Friday as a result of the much-talked about truckers protest around the Beltway. Drivers of tractor trailers had said they were going to drive slowly to block off parts of the Beltway to protest excessive government intrusion.

There were police reports of about 30 tractor trailers with American flags and signs for their protest — “Truckers Ride for the Constitution” — driving at the same speed as the rest of traffic on the Beltway in Friday morning’s rush hour. But by mid-day the truckers appeared to have broken into smaller groups amid already-heavy volumes of traffic and rain showers on a holiday weekend.

In Maryland, state police officials said Friday there were a few minor accidents in the morning on the outer loop of the Beltway in College Park at the Route 1 exit and at the Route 50 exit in Landover — none of them were related to the trucker protest.

The trucker protesters seemed to be but a mere blip on the traffic cameras of area police officials.

Given there are roughly 200,000 to 250,000 vehicles daily on the Beltway — with roughly 10 percent of them being tractor trailers, the protestor group was going to have to do a lot to stand out, according to David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

“We saw about 20 of their trucks this morning coming from Route 66 in Virginia into Maryland,” he said. “They were going the speed limit but it was stop and go traffic, and we’ve had six inches of rain for the last two and a half days.

“Nothing materialized,” he said of the truckers protest, which had taken on a life of its own online.

In Virginia, extra troopers were on hand — in part — because of the expected trucker protest. Earlier Friday morning, Virginia police said the trucks traveled in the right lane of the Beltway, keeping pace with other traffic — around 40 to 45 miles per hour, due to the wet road conditions, said Virginia State Police spokesman Corinne N. Geller.

But by mid-morning, she said, the group was becoming harder to track.

“It was pretty much a non-event,” she said. “They continued to comply with the laws. I would think the heavy traffic and the rain made it hard for them to stay together.”

Virginia state police did stop four tractor-trailers Friday morning after they drove side-by-side, across all four northbound lanes of the Beltway’s inner loop. That caused traffic to slow to 15 miles per hour. State police troopers stopped the vehicles and “warned them not to impede traffic,” Geller said. The drivers were not issued tickets and allowed to “proceed on their way.”

In a dial-in conference call with the group called “Truckers Ride for the Constitution,” one of the protest organizers — Zeeda Andrews — chatted with a truck driver who was going by the name General Lee (otherwise known as Ernest Lee from Bullhead City, Ariz.), and other organizers.

Tom Lacovara of Woodbury, N.J., who was riding with Lee, around 11 a.m. on the Beltway in Lee’s tractor-trailer said the two and other protesters had stopped for a bathroom break mid-day Friday at a weigh station near the Beltway and Interstate 95 in College Park.

He said the group had tried to register protesters at meeting spots along Interstate 95, but it had trouble keeping track of groups and where they were driving in from so they abandoned writing it down. It was unclear — even to him and Lee — just how many protesters were out on the Beltway.

“This is the first movement,” Lacovara said. “I would be making up a number if I guessed how many trucks are out here. I can just tell you we have a healthy group and an even healthier group on the way.”

He said the group expects its protest to run through Sunday but had no intentions of causing traffic snarls on the Beltway.

“We didn’t want to hurt the American people,” he said. “That’s why we wanted to do it on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday when traffic is lighter. Otherwise we would roll in here on a Monday or Tuesday and shut it down.”

In Pennsylvania, police officials said there were no sightings earlier in the morning of the trucker protest in Harrisburg where leaders had said they planned to meet before heading to Maryland to access the Beltway.

“Nothing,” said Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Adam Reed at 8:50 a.m. Friday. “There are no signs of them here.”

There was confusion earlier this week about whether the protest was really going to happen, or was a hoax. Andrews had said the ride was a go, emphasizing that it would be peaceful. Another Georgia trucker, Earl Conlon, had said it was just a ploy to get attention.

Andrews said she expected “a few thousand truckers” to descend on the District on Friday. Police officials had said that as long as no one breaks the law, the truckers will be allowed to proceed with their activities — just as other groups have in the past.

Even though the rally plans drew more than 136,000 Facebook likes, trucking industry groups stepped forward to disavow the group’s action. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents small-business trucking professionals, said it did not support the protest.

Officials with the American Trucking Associations said their organization “is not a sponsor of this ‘strike’ nor do we endorse or condone the activities of these few individuals.”

The protest group’s agenda has evolved since the story began making the rounds of news outlets early this week, with a story in U.S. News & World Report that said some truckers wanted members of Congress arrested, while others called for the ouster of President Obama.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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