The busy Interstate 95 reopened late Tuesday in Virginia after snow and ice brought the traffic to a full day, but questions remained about why the winter weather left drivers stranded overnight.
The Virginia Department of Transportation said Wednesday morning that I-95 around Fredericksburg was open, though some icy conditions continued. Crews worked the previous day to release a traffic jam of about 50 kilometers, forcing dozens of drivers to wait in their cars for more than 24 hours in some cases to clear the roads.
Governor Ralph Northam blamed the massive backup for “an incredibly unusual event”. about a foot of snow falling near Fredericksburg. Transportation officials said the winter weather started with rain, which would have washed away any treatment on roads to prevent ice formation.
But some motorist caught in the backup triggered frustration over officials’ responses.
“They failed water (this morning). What will water do?” Maurice Watson told WJLA-TV. “I have not eaten in 24 hours, I ran out of gas, I called VDOT six times. No one came! It’s an outrage, that’s how you treat your taxpayers?”
Ronni Schorr told the Washington Post she did not see any plows until Tuesday morning after being trapped on I-95 for 14 hours. “I’m not angry at the snow,” Schorr told the newspaper. “I’m just sorry the way they handled it.”
Among those captured was also Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., Who drove to Washington, DC, from Richmond, saying the trip took him 27 hours.
Speaking to reporters after arriving in Washington, Kaine said he saw crews working overnight to clear the roads, but called the incident “probably a good infrastructure story. In general, we’re just not as big investors and infrastructure as we should be. “
The storm began with rain, which prevented Virginia transportation crews from pre-treating the lanes, Department of Transportation District Engineer Marcie Parker said. Trucks began to lose control and snow fell at a speed of 2 inches per hour, she said.
“It was way too much for us to keep up with,” she told reporters. “Therefore, the trucks and cars could not get up and down the hills because we had too much snow and ice out there, with the amount of traffic we had on the interstate road.”
Parker also said the snow knocked out the power to some traffic cameras, and the location of the logjam meant express lanes were not much help clearing backups.
Just after 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Virginia Department of Transportation tweeted the highway had been reopened with no disabled vehicles back on the road.
However, the National Weather Service said Wednesday that stains with freezing rain could cause slippery travel conditions. The state Department of Transportation warned drivers on I-95 to be careful.
It was unclear the exact number of vehicles captured in the backup, but photos and videos on social media showed hundreds lined up.
The night from Monday to Tuesday morning, the cold temperatures made motorists worried and many turned off their cars for periods to save on gas. Others walked around or fainted.
Marvin Romero said he spent 20 hours on the road while driving with his kids and returning from South Florida.
“To me, I see it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. How many people can actually say they stepped on I-95 or they slept on I-95?” he said. “It’s hopefully a story I can tell my grandchildren one day.”
Starring: Ledyard King, USA TODAY; Associated Press