RICHMOND, Va. - Hundreds of drivers were left stranded for hours along I-95 during the severe snowstorm at the beginning of the year. The fiasco prompted a wave of criticism about the state's response to the snowy gridlock and lack of preparation ahead of time.
Friday, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Virginia State Police announced the release of the multi-agency after-action report started after the Jan. 3 snowstorm to assess the Commonwealth’s response efforts.
CNA, a non-profit research and analysis organization, conducted an independent comprehensive review of the conditions, events and actions. The organization produced the after-action report after the gathering of situational and other relevant information through numerous interviews with staff and leadership of the three involved Virginian agencies.
The 41-page report answers the following questions:
- How did road conditions get so bad?
- Why couldn’t VDOT keep up with snow removal?
- Why didn’t VDOT close the highway sooner?
- Why didn’t state agency leadership understand how bad I-95 conditions were getting?
- Why didn’t VDOT open the I-95 express lanes to traffic?
- Why didn’t state agencies provide direct assistance to stranded motorists?
- Why didn’t anyone tell people not to travel on I-95, or report how bad the traffic was?
The goal of the analysis was to suggest ways the Commonwealth can improve outcomes to this type of incident in the future.
What started as rain changed to heavy, wet snow, which fell at historic rates of up to 3 inches per hour. In the course of 24 hours, temperatures dropped more than 40 degrees.
The snowstorm iced roads, downed trees, disrupted services and impacted motorists on interstates throughout the Commonwealth, affecting I-95 the most.
Current Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who was not yet in office at the time of the storm, said the Northam administration "did not properly prepare or communicate" ahead of or during the emergency. Youngkin issued the following statement after the release of the report:
“This report demonstrates as the storm changed in intensity and left Virginians and travelers stranded on I-95, the previous administration’s leadership did not properly prepare or communicate. Since assuming office on January 15th, our administration has worked very closely with Virginia State Police, our Virginia National Guard, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, and the Virginia Department of Transportation responding quickly and adequately to each incoming weather related event and I've been incredibly pleased with our execution. We have weathered three big snowstorms successfully. Our focus is on preparation, communication and execution. Virginians can trust that we are working to keep them safe.”
According to VDOT, Virginia has the third-largest state-maintained highway system in the country, behind Texas and North Carolina.