RUTHER GLEN, Va. (AP) - Hundreds of motorists were stuck in the snow for more than 15 hours along a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 95 in Virginia after a crash involving six tractor-trailers, authorities said.
The Virginia Department of Transportation confirmed around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday that I-95 northbound and southbound lanes in the state have reopened after being closed for emergency response for most of the day prior.
All disabled vehicles have been removed from the interstate.
The tractor-trailer collision Monday afternoon caused no injuries, but brought traffic to a standstill along the U.S. East Coast’s main north-south highway, and it became impossible to move as the snow accumulated. Hours passed with hundreds of motorists posting increasingly desperate messages on social media about running out of fuel, food, and water.
I-95 remains closed in the Fredericksburg area. Snow plows & tow trucks are on the scene. Motorists should plan to avoid travel on I-95 in this area until lanes reopen and significant congestion clears the area. pic.twitter.com/atCkun7zId— VDOT (@VaDOT) January 4, 2022
“Crews will start taking people off at any available interchange to get them - for the southbound queue 143 (Garrisonville) and 140 (Courthouse) and northbound at exit 104 and exit 110. NB is 104 (Carmel Church) and 110 is Ladysmith,” VDOT tweeted at 5:20 a.m. Tuesday.
Between 7 to 11 inches of snow accumulated in the area during Monday’s blizzard, according to the National Weather Service, and thousands of accidents and stranded vehicles were reported throughout central and northern Virginia. As of 3:30 p.m. Monday, Virginia State Police had responded to more than 2,000 calls for service due to treacherous road conditions, The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg reported.
Compounding the challenges, traffic cameras went offline as much of central Virginia lost power in the storm, VDOT said. More than 281,000 customers remained without electricity on Tuesday, according to poweroutage.us.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Emily Clementson, a truck driver, told NBC Washington. She urged stuck motorists to ask truck drivers if they have food or water to share, since many carry extra supplies in case they get stranded.
The agency tweeted to the stranded drivers on Monday that reinforcements were arriving from other states to help get them moving again.
“We wish we had a timetable, ETA or an educated guess on when travel will resume on I-95. It’s at a standstill in our area with multiple incidents,” the tweet read. “It's frustrating & scary. Please know our crews don’t stop. Crews will work 24/7 until ALL state-maintained roads are safe for travel.”
State police had warned people to avoid driving unless absolutely necessary, especially as evening and freezing temperatures set in.
“Due to the heavy snowfall concentrated in that area, road conditions rapidly turned treacherous for commercial and passenger vehicles,” state police reported in a press release. “VSP troopers, wreckers, and VDOT crews continue to work as quickly as the weather and roads will safely permit to get stuck vehicles cleared and traffic moving again on I-95.”
Just before 8 a.m. Tuesday, the governor's office issued a statement that read, in part:
The Governor’s office has been working throughout the night alongside the Virginia State Police (VSP), Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) to respond to this situation. State and local emergency personnel — with particular support from Spotsyvania, Stafford, Prince William County, Fredericksburg counties — are continuing to clear downed trees along I-95, assist disabled vehicles, and re-route drivers. Since midnight, VSP has responded to 1,016 traffic crashes and assisted 1,026 motorists. An emergency message is going to all stranded drivers connecting them to support, and the state is working with localities to open a warming shelter for passengers, as needed.
While sunlight is expected to help VDOT treat and clear roads, all Virginians must continue to avoid the interstate and follow directions of emergency personnel.
Just after 2 p.m. Virginia State Police described the progress at the 109 mile marker emergency crossover in Caroline County as "slow but steady." They and VDOT crews are continuing to help stranded motorists.
Slow but steady progress at the I-95 109 mm emergency crossover in #Caroline Co. being made with getting traffic moving again. #VSP & @VaDOTFRED crews continue our nonstop efforts to safely free stranded motorists & clear abandoned vehicles thru the 40-mile stretch of I-95. @VDEM pic.twitter.com/AmqcWCmLfV— VA State Police (@VSPPIO) January 4, 2022
As of 5:15 pm, VDOT says there are no more stranded motorists on I-95 and less than 20 vehicles left to be removed.
UPDATE: There are no people stranded still on I-95. Less than 20 vehicles left to be removed from the interstate before plow trains will come through to remove snow and ice from the travel lanes.— VDOT Fredericksburg (@VaDOTFRED) January 4, 2022
VDOT, Virginia State Police, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) are continuing to work around the clock.
While drivers can enter or exit I-95 northbound and southbound, officials say travel remains hazardous throughout Stafford, Spotsylvania and Caroline Counties.
Since early Tuesday morning, crews directed travelers stopped on I-95 to the nearest possible interchange between exit 104/Route 207 in Caroline County and exit 152/Dumfries in Prince William County. Once all disabled vehicles and tractor-trailers were removed through the 40-mile section of interstate, multiple passes were made with snow plows and motorgraders to remove snow and ice then treated the travel lanes with materials to safely reopen the interstate.
VDOT says it is continuing to focus on primary and high-volume secondary roads before shifting to less traveled roads and subdivision streets.
Most secondary routes and neighborhoods remain in severe condition, meaning snow-covered with little to no bare visible pavement showing.
Drivers in the Fredericksburg area should continue to delay any unnecessary travel with dozens of roads closed with downed trees and fallen utility lines.
If travel is essential, drivers should be alert to slick, icy road conditions overnight and Wednesday morning.
Crews will continue to work 24 hours a day until all state-maintained roads are safe for travel.
Here are some things travelers need to know:
- Avoid non-essential travel in the Fredericksburg area
- Many of the traffic signals remain dark or flashing with the loss of power in many areas
- Follow proper procedure when a traffic signal is out
- Traffic cameras on 511Virginia.org continue to be out of service with the major power outage.
- Online snow plow tracker map at vdotplows.org. All VDOT-owned and contracted plows are equipped with Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), allowing them to be monitored on the snowplow tracker.
- Report downed trees, tree debris, or other roadway hazards to VDOT’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-FOR-ROAD (367-7623) or online at https://my.vdot.virginia.gov. The Customer Service Center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to take reports and answer questions.
- If you come across a downed power line, do not try to move it. Contact your local authorities.
This story was originally published by Leland Pinder on Scripps station WTVR in Richmond, Virginia.
Related: Drivers from Hampton Roads area stranded in I-95 gridlock