Miles of the stretch of Interstate 95 in Virginia, a major east coast artery that is often a traffic nightmare in good weather, froze in place for nearly a full day after a blistering snowstorm hit swept the area on Monday.
Snowfall and downed trees resulted in massive delays, trapping an unknown number of vehicles for hours in the upstate, officials said, who blamed the sequence of rain before snow preventing them from driving. pretreat the highway with the ice melt.
“We weren’t able to treat our roads before, and this is due to the rain. The rain would have washed away all our chemicals and salt from the roads and would not have provided any additional protection,” said Stephen Birch, commissioner. of state highways. during a press briefing in the afternoon.
The state Department of Transportation tweeted that the highway was officially cleared around 8:40 p.m. But officials also said temperatures are expected to drop below freezing again overnight and urged drivers to avoid traffic jams. unnecessary travel.
“Times will STILL be below zero tonight,” the official DOT account tweeted. “Please be advised to stay home if possible as the roads are still being cleared.”
WINTER STORM VIRGINIA I-95 DISASTER LEAVES HUNDREDS OF BLOCKS: “UNPRECEDENTED”
Despite the traffic nightmare, state police said they received no reports of fatalities, injuries or major accidents on the affected stretch of I-95 as of 4:45 p.m. ET on Tuesday. . The police announced around 5 pm that the traffic was reducing “slowly but steadily”.
In a 3 p.m. conference call with reporters, Gov. Ralph Northam said state soldiers and other first responders were heading for the freeway, handing out food, blankets and other aids.
He said several dozen vehicles remained stranded, but they were empty.
âThere are probably around 50 or 60 vehicles still there, and at this point every vehicle has been checked,â he said. “Those who are there have been abandoned.”
Two hours later, transportation officials said the number of stranded vehicles had dropped to “less than 20” and snowplows would soon clear away the rest of the snow and ice.
CONDUCTORS TRAPPED ON THE VIRGINIA INTERSTATE WHEN THE TEMPERATURES HAVE DROPPED DURING THE OVERNIGHT
The trouble began on Monday when the “unprecedented” storm swept through. For most of Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Transportation said it was diverting drivers on I-95 between Carolina and Prince William counties in the upstate. Authorities closed it for nearly 50 exits between 152 and 104.
Northam urged drivers to avoid the freeway, and local authorities urged people to avoid unnecessary travel to ease traffic on alternative routes.
Some people have said they were trapped for hours, including Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who tweeted that it took him 27 hours to travel the 110 miles between Richmond and Washington.
A stranded motorist told Fox News’s John Roberts that trapped travelers were freely using the embankment along the road to relieve themselves.
VIRGINIE SEN. TIM KAINE AMONG THOSE STRANDED IN THE WINTER STORM I-95 DISASTER
Photos and videos shared on social media illustrate the chaos travelers have faced. Many still showed snow on the roads. Some had cars stuck on their shoulders – or even in the middle lanes.
Tricia Kinder left her home in Midlothian, Va. On Monday afternoon for Baltimore, where she had a Tuesday morning doctor’s appointment in Johns Hopkins.
“It was almost 70 degrees the day before,” she told Fox News Digital. “So I thought, well really, whatever accumulations we’re going to get, what’s the likelihood of it continuing?” “
But even though she left with her husband a day earlier, she said the bad weather had forced her to turn back. They made it on the freeway to exit 104, then tried side roads through Fredericksburg but turned around after sunset.
She said she saw virtually no plows between Ashland and Fredericksburg on I-95 and back roads.
âIt looked like a war zone going through some of these areas,â Kinder said. “It’s a major highway, there’s really no reason VDOT shouldn’t have come out.”
Parts of Northern Virginia have seen up to 10 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
After Kinder turned around, she said that she and her husband unwittingly drove part of the highway closed by authorities, but saw no signs or warnings. They didn’t encounter any traffic there, but on the other side she said she saw semi-trailers and other vehicles stuck for miles.
“I am truly disappointed that the Virginia Department of Transportation let down some of its most vulnerable road users last night,” long-haul trucker Matthew Marchand told Fox News Digital. âI took the time to check other drivers in cars and trucks last night because my main responsibility is to protect myself, but keeping others safe is definitely number 2. Freight transportation comes long after that . “
Marchand recounted his experience on Twitter. He said he met a Tesla driver who feared running out of power in below-freezing temperatures on Monday evening. He gave her emergency blanket. Children stuck in another car built a snowman on the side of the highway.
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In a separate tweet, he wrote that the long delay to clean up the freeway “is nothing short of incompetence.”
Other drivers criticized the state’s readiness and lambasted Richmond’s budget for snow removal.
Transportation authorities did not immediately respond to questions about the cost of cleaning I-95 this week compared to a typical winter.
Fox News’ Maria Lencki contributed to this report.