Officials say the closed section of I-95 in Virginia will reopen during rush hour on Wednesday morning.
Are you or someone you know stuck on I-95? Talk to WTOP about your experiences.
A horrific traffic jam that started during Monday morning’s record-breaking winter storm gradually worsened as temperatures dropped overnight, causing the slush to refreeze.
To clear the roads and evacuate motorists – some stuck for hours – the northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 95 from Exit 152 (Dumfries Road) to Exit 104 (Carmel Church) are closed while crews continue to work to remove stopped trucks, treat roads for icing, and clear snow. Motorists should always avoid the area or use local roads to reach their destination.
The closures caused delays on Route 1 between Woodbridge and Fredericksburg, said Dave Dildine of the WTO Traffic Center.
The Virginia Department of Transportation said Tuesday night that there were no stranded motorists on I-95.
Officials said the closed section of I-95 would reopen during Wednesday morning rush hour. No traffic injuries or fatalities were reported as a result of the closure.
In a phone call with reporters, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said rain falling before Monday morning’s snowstorm would have washed away any chemicals or salt used to pre-treat the roads.
âAt the beginning, we had rain, which meant that we could not adequately pre-treat the roads. Then we had slush that fell a lot faster than our plows could move it, âNortham said. âAnd then, by nightfall, the temperatures fell below zero. All of these created the perfect storm for what happened on I-95. “
In addition to the preliminary conditions, several semi-trailers jacking up on the road further complicated the clean-up efforts.
âWhen that happens it will create a messâ¦ and it will take time to clean up, whether it happens in a winter storm or on a sunny summer day,â Northam said.
Responding to questions about why the Virginia National Guard had not been called in to support state responders, Northam said the Guard had not received any requests from localities along the I- 95. He also said the deployment of the Guard would not have been an “immediate solution” to the crisis.
âRemember that our guards have day jobs. In fact, as you all remember last January 6, we sent the National Guard to help out on Capitol Hill after the insurgency, but it was the next day before they could arrive.
At present, Northam said the Virginia National Guard is on standby, but state and local police, in addition to other responders, “have the resources and the crew that we need.”
Earlier today, Northam said food and warming shelters were being set up for drivers.
“We don’t need more people on the highways, we need to clean up the highway,” the governor said. “So I would ask people to stay off our roads until we can clear them.”
Why the highway was closed
Also in the update, Virginia Department of Transportation Commissioner Steve Brich said that while traffic moved slowly overnight Monday, the rapid drop in temperatures froze snow that was already fallen. This led to the dangerous conditions and the standstill that trapped motorists on Tuesday morning.
Brich said it was around 3 a.m. on Tuesday that authorities decided to close I-95. He said the hours between making that decision and the actual closing of the highway at 8 a.m. were needed to get the word out and develop work detours for motorists.
âThis included media notificationsâ¦ statewide and our neighboring states,â Brich said. “It also allowed us to work out the final detour plan so that we could get people and motorists off the freeway and redirect them south or north to make sure there were viable routes to them. layout which also facilitate accommodation. “
Brich said emergency and clean-up crews are working to make sure stranded motorists get to where they need to be and reopen the freeway.
âRight now we have 52 snow plows with spreaders, nine graders and 16 tow trucks actively working from posts 110 to 143, both north and south. “
According to Brich, all motorists have been evacuated from the closed section of I-95, but there are still 50 to 60 vehicles on the freeway that have been abandoned.
Conditions for many motorists stuck on an I-95 or so have been severe.
Hundreds of vehicles were stationary, some for nearly 24 hours, shutting down their engines in freezing weather to save dwindling fuel, many with little or no food or water.
“We know there was a tremendous amount of vehicles that were stranded for many, many hours, which we find totally unacceptable,” Marcy Parker, district engineer at the Virginia Department of Transportation, said in a statement. updated the situation earlier Tuesday.
Parker said the number one priority is to get all stranded motorists off the freeway so that “we can send the snowplows and graders to cut the ice and snow that have frozen on the road.”
She also said the biggest obstacle to operations were vehicles, including large semi-trailers, which ran out of fuel while stuck on the highway.
âThey’re either stuck in the snow or in a ditch, which requires a tow truck – a lot of tow trucks – to pull these vehicles out,” Parker said.
For those who remain stranded after being towed off the freeway, Parker said state and local police are trying to help by “providing them with water, fuel or blanket and making them know where they can go. If they need shelter, all localities have or are opening a shelter by the end of the day to help anyone who cannot continue to their final destination.
In addition to cleaning and treating the freeway, Parker said cleaning up fallen trees and ice at and around freeway exits is a top priority.
As of 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, Virginia State Police had responded to 1,015 traffic accidents related to recent winter weather conditions. This number does not include incidents on 1-95 since the start of the backup, said Corinne Geller, Public Relations Manager for the Virginia State Police.
Throughout Monday morning, vehicles guided by the VDOT stopped on the freeway at nearby interchanges, where they could access alternate routes. Neal Augenstein of OMPP reported that stranded drivers were exiting I-95 southbound at Exit 152 for Route 234 / Dumfries Road, albeit slowly.
OMCP journalist Dave Dildine called the crisis a worst-case scenario.
âSome people have been seen abandoning their vehicles in snow-covered traffic lanes, going down I-95 to unknown parts,â Dildine said. âSome callers were sobbing and scared. Psychologically, it is extremely distressing to be standing still on a freeway for hours without knowing how long it will last.
Early in the day
Earlier on Tuesday, Northam fended off criticism that the state’s response was slow and there was a lack of communication with the public and the media.
Northam told the WTO on Tuesday that the state has all its resources to close I-95.
Neal Augenstein of OMPP reports southbound I-95 near Dumfries Road
Commuters trapped on I-95 ran out of gas with children and animals in their cars. Drivers were forced to spend the night on the freeway with no toilets nearby and temperatures plunged to lows 20.
âWe need to get my dad to essential surgery in Massachusetts by 7:30 am tomorrow,â a driver wrote to WTOP. Another: âWe left Gaithersburg at 4:50 am to attend my father’s funeral in Hampton. We don’t seem to be getting there.
In the last few minutes, emergency vehicles have taken the expressways. The crew members crossed a grassy median and touched down with stranded conductors. Maybe see if emergency help is needed. No one was transported from my point of view @WTOPtrafic @WTOPtrafic pic.twitter.com/EhZhqRF6cz
– Neal Augenstein (@AugensteinWTOP) January 4, 2022
“We’ve been parked here for five hours south of Quantico,” said Claire Hughes, a commuter on I-95. âWe didn’t see any tow trucks, any broken down vehicles, no policemen trying to open lanes. It’s just a stationary parking lotâ¦ it’s atrocious.
NBC News correspondent Josh Lederman found himself in a traffic jam about half an hour south of the district on Monday afternoon. By dawn on Tuesday, he still hadn’t moved. In a Twitter thread, Lederman said people took breaks to exercise and walk their dogs between abandoned vehicles.
Like thousands of others, Lederman – accompanied by his dog Jonas – spent the cold night on the freeway nervously gazing at the fuel gauge, spending hours without seeing the police or the plows. Lederman melted snow for his dog to drink.
âI have chewing gum and about a third of a bottle of water. If things go really bad, I have food for my dog, but I hope it doesn’t come to that, âLederman told OMCP by phone. âIf you were in an emergency right now, there is absolutely no way anyone can contact you for anything medical or anything. The people here are just stuck.
Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., tweeted Tuesday that he too found himself stranded on the freeway towards Washington: âI started my normal 2 hour trip to DC at 1 pm yesterday. Nineteen hours later, I’m still not near the Capitol.
Virginia Representative Abigail Spanberger said there needs to be a thorough review of everything that happened during the winter storm that stranded some people for more than 24 hours.
Colleen Kelleher, Joshua Barlow, Matt Small and Dick Uliano of the WTO contributed to this report.