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State watchdog finds 3 major issues with I-95 snowstorm gridlock response

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Posted at 10:43 PM, Aug 12, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Virginia watchdog agency has found officials did not apply past experience to help prevent the Interstate 95 snowstorm gridlock back in January.

The Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) found three major issues with the agency's responses.

Hundreds of drivers were stuck on I-95 for more than 24 hours during a snowstorm in January. This new report finds three failures these agencies made that should have been implemented or in place.

First, OSIG said these agencies had experience that could have helped the situation. They said they should have applied what they learned from a similar 2018 snowstorm on Interstate 81 in Bristol.

They also found Virginia has no hazard-specific plan for snowfall, just general emergency plans for natural disasters.

OSIG also found Virginia did not communicate properly to drivers to avoid I-95 or provided inaccurate information to those on the road. They provided the example where one message said “I-95 Drivers: State & locals coming ASAP with supplies & to move you.

In response to the report, the Virginia Department of Transportation said they are committed to improving its practices. They said that they are working with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Virginia State Police to address and create a corrective plan of action.

They said they have taken the following steps already to correct the mistakes, including already starting to plan for winter by working on messaging, situational awareness and securing adequate resources.

The VDOT communication staff statewide is also taking FEMA Emergency management study courses to improve their crisis communication.

VDOT, VSP and VDEM have also created a framework to address long-term closures similar to northern states to provide emergency communication using text messages.

VSP and VDEM responded, giving similar statements on how they are committed to taking corrective actions and working collaboratively.

Governor Glenn Youngkin's office said they appreciate this audit on former Governor Northam’s agency's responses, saying efforts are already underway to improve snow response and preparedness.

You can read the full report here.

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