Truckers and other motorists attempting to travel into, out of or around St. Louis and its suburbs should pay attention to news reports and the Missouri Department of Transportation’s travel advisories in wake of sometimes violent protests in and around the town of Ferguson, officials said.
“As far as drivers, they’re just going to have to use their discretion,” Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Al Nothum said. “Listen to TV, listen to radio, and listen to their dispatchers. And avoid the areas around Ferguson, especially in the evening hours.”
Protests and rioting in the St. Louis suburb turned violent on Monday night, shortly after the announcement that a local white police officer would face no charges in connection with the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager.
At least a dozen businesses were set ablaze, 61 people were arrested, and two police cars were destroyed during acts of civil unrest following the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered additional National Guardsmen to the city this morning to provide security at the Ferguson Police Department, which will allow additional law enforcement officers to protect the public.
Nothum said protesters were continuing Tuesday morning, but that the demonstrations so far were of a peaceful nature.
“There are different pockets of demonstrators out there,” he said. “(The riots) tend to happen in the evening when the sun goes down. Driving throughout the day should not be an issue. But in the evening hours be aware.”
Although the violence was sporadic, protests and demonstrations were not confined simply to the community of Ferguson, located northwest of the city and bordered on three sides by Interstates, 70, 170 and 270. For about an hour last night, protesters spilled onto Interstate 44 near Interstate 55 and Grand Avenue in St. Louis.
Greg Horn, a MODOT engineer in St. Louis, said last night was the first time since protests began in August that an interstate had been shut down.
“The (protesters) that were on 44 were peaceful,” he said. “They just stopped the traffic. The police came out there and they moved them off.”
Horn said MODOT will be updating its online road conditions map on the agency’s website to include real-time information about road closures, accidents and other travel information. A mobile app is also available for download. The agency also maintains a toll-free number, 888-275-6636, which will provide the same information.
While the transportation office website and hotline can provide up-to-date road closures, detours and delays on major travel routes, it won’t provide drivers with information about secondary roads and city streets.
He also said in the event of another group of protesters shutting down a state road or major interstate, MoDOT will issue travel alerts across the state’s electronic highway sign system.
“Our biggest thing is safety,” he said. “If protesters are out there, we’ll try to divert traffic to logical places as quickly as we can. We don’t want protesters hit and we don’t want people stuck in traffic either.”
At least one OOIDA member, Al Clark, lives in Ferguson. When reached by phone Tuesday morning, Clark said he was making a delivery out of town, but that his family and home were safe.
“It’s just crazy s---,” Clark said. “All those businesses burned down, people lost their jobs. Some of them are not coming back. … I’ve never seen nothing like this before. Nothing like this before has happened in Ferguson. You expect this kind of stuff in California.”
Clark said he hopes to return home by Thanksgiving.
Besides physical safety hazards, working in an area under a state of emergency declaration could have serious financial consequences for drivers, as many insurance policies carry exemptions for operating the vehicle in such conditions.
Deborah Winkler, OOIDA Truck Insurance Department manager, says that while individual policies may vary, most insurance plans will have “some kind of exclusion for riots or civil unrest.”
Those exclusions can be for loss or damage caused by strikers, locked-out workmen, persons taking part in labor disturbances, riots or civil commotions. Winkler said truckers are sometimes left with the difficult choice of doing a job that could put them in harm’s way, or declining to take a job altogether.
Nothum said drivers who are working in and around the area should bear in mind that the situation is “very, very fluid.”
“It doesn’t change from day to day; it changes minute by minute,” he said. “All we can do is really react to (the protesters).”
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