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Stranded on 95: Virginia officials review snowstorm decisions

Winter Weather Interstate Shutdown
Posted at 6:28 PM, Jan 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-04 18:51:14-05

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Transportation's Fredericksburg district engineer said Monday's winter storm brought snowfall rates heavier and for longer amounts of time than she has ever seen in her career.

"Two plus inches per hour for four to five hours," Marcie Parker said. "With the amount of traffic, cars and trucks could not make it up and down the interstate. Too much snow and ice."

She said four inches of ice underneath more than a foot of snow on some parts of I-95 in her district made it impossible to clear the road.

"Many vehicles got stuck," Parker said.

Extra Virginia State Police officers were on duty to respond to disabled and stuck vehicles along the 40-mile length of interstate impacted. However, VSP spokeswoman Corinne Geller said it was a very tedious process to get to people safely.

"Many of the vehicles involved are commercial vehicles that require heavy-duty wreckers," Geller said.

Leading many to wonder why the Virginia National Guard was not activated to respond, either pre-emptively or after the storm began.

A spokesperson for the Virginia National Guard said they could have helped deliver food and water and conducted welfare checks, but they would not have been able to plow and clear roads.

He also said they could have done little to clear vehicles or open blocked stretches of interstate.

"National Guard personnel have full-time civilian jobs. It can take 12 to 24 hours to bring them on duty," Lauren Opett, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said.

Yet, hundreds of drivers sat stranded on I-95 overnight and were still there 24 hours after the first flakes fell.

"Our trigger for requesting the National Guard is if we start seeing requests come in seeking assistance and support," Opett said. "As of this morning, we had not received any requests from our localities or our state agencies, which is our trigger to put those in motion so therefore that 12 to 24-hour timeline would still have been tricky."

Some drivers got on I-95 on Monday because most entrances to the interstate were not closed until 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

"We did not think we were going to need to shut down the interstate, and we tried last night all night long we had people pulling vehicles out," Parker said.

Other drivers looked at open and clear express lanes and wondered why they could not use those to get people out.

"The express lanes, while it would have reduced the back up in Prince William County, it all would have still had to come together before the area where the road was closed," Parker said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday just after 5 p.m. that no more drivers were stranded on Interstate 95.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.