I-95 Shutdown: One year since major snowstorm caused 18+ hours worth of gridlock in Virginia

Wednesday marks one year since the beginning of an 18+ hour shutdown of I-95 in Virginia that left drivers stranded, a majority of them spending the night in their cars, due to a major snowstorm.

What happened?

The incident began with a major crash involving several tractor-trailers in the afternoon of Jan. 3. Traffic along a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 95 came to a standstill shortly after centered around the Fredericksburg area.

Between 7 to 11 inches of snow accumulated in the area on Jan. 3 with much of it freezing as the sun went down. As of 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 3, Virginia State Police said troopers had responded to more than 2,000 calls for service due to hazardous road conditions.

Virginia transportation officials say the reason it took so long to clear the roads was an inability to pre-treat them before the winter weather hit. They also say plowing was difficult because of the rate of accumulation. 

The shutdown impacted northbound and southbound lanes from exit 152 (Dumfries Road) to exit 104 (Carmel Church). That stretch of roadway remained closed into the morning of Jan. 4.

By 1 p.m. on Jan. 4, VDOT said they were detouring motorists who were on I-95 between Caroline County and Prince William County.

I-95 was officially open with all disabled vehicles removed from the roadway by 8 p.m. on Jan. 4. No one was injured on I-95 during the shutdown.

Traveler experience

SKYFOX captured images that appeared to show drivers turning around on parts of Interstate 95 in Virginia to escape traffic.

Andrew Peters of Richmond finally made it home after a nine-hour trek in the winter weather when he was hit with a giant Uber bill of $600, WTOP-FM first reported. He eventually received a notice of refund for his trip.

Meera Rao and her husband, Raghavendra, were driving home after visiting their daughter in North Carolina when they got stuck. They were only 100 feet past an exit but could not move for roughly 16 hours, the Associated Press wrote.

Even Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine got stuck in the traffic for 19 hours.

"I started my normal 2 hour drive to DC at 1pm yesterday. 19 hours later, I’m still not near the Capitol. My office is in touch with VDOT to see how we can help other Virginians in this situation. Please stay safe everyone," he tweeted.

A Baltimore bakery gave away loaves of bread and rolls to stranded motorists. Chuck Paterakis, a co-owner of H&S Bakery which operates Schmidt Baking Company, instructed one of his drivers also stuck on I-95 to give a package of rolls and one loaf of bread to any person in need. 

FOX 5 spoke to a family from Rhode Island traveling down to Florida who say they made it as far as Woodbridge before checking into a hotel.

"This morning, we left at about 9:30, and I think we made it seven miles up Route 1 and that took us until about 2 or 2:30 this afternoon, and we were lucky enough to find a hotel room and here we are for the night," the family says.

Investigating the shutdown

Virginia commissioned an investigation into the winter weather catastrophe in February 2022. 

In his final days in office, Gov. Ralph Northam took heat for his comments about the I-95 debacle including a statement that he was "getting sick and tired of people talking about what went wrong."

Before leaving, he ordered an independent review of what happened that's being conducted by CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis firm in Arlington, at a cost of nearly $80,000.

The state-commissioned report said Virginia state agencies collectively "lost situational awareness" and failed to keep up with growing gridlock.

While the 41-page report offered suggestions for improving future emergency responses, it did not ascribe blame to any single person or agency.

It noted first responders faced unusually heavy snowfall, busier-than-normal traffic and COVID-19-related staffing shortages — all while dealing with a highway corridor notorious for congestion in the best of circumstances.


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