VDOT: 'Completely unacceptable' for drivers to be stranded for hours on interstate
Nearly a day after being trapped in gridlock on a frozen, snow-covered highway as temperatures plummeted into the teens, drivers have been freed from I-95
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. – Nearly a day after being trapped in gridlock on a frozen, snow-covered highway as temperatures plummeted into the teens, drivers have been freed from Interstate 95, Virginia DOT officials announced Tuesday evening.
"There are no more people stranded still on I-95," VDOT officials wrote on Twitter. "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."
I-95 is finally back open Tuesday night but the Virginia Department of Transportation still says to avoid travel.
It's an end to a saga that left thousands of drivers stuck after cold air swept in, turning a steady rain into a heavy snow. FOX Weather's Robert Ray was stranded for the day as well.
As snowfall rates reached 2-4 inches per hour, temperatures dropped well below freezing, turning what had been a wet highway into an icy highway.
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Snowfall would eventually reach around a foot in Fredericksburg.
"That was entirely too much for us to keep up with," said Marcie Parker, an engineer with the Virginia Department of Transportation, during a news conference Tuesday. "Consequently, with the amount of traffic that we had on the interstate, the trucks and cars couldn't make it up and down the hills."
As a result, hundreds of trucks and cars became stuck in both the north and southbound directions on the interstate in the Fredericksburg area, essentially forcing a nearly-50-mile stretch of the highway to shut down between Fredericksburg and Newington.
As nightfall set in, the snow stopped, but the temperatures kept falling -- through the 20s and eventually into the teens, creating a scary situation for those who had been stuck for hours.
"We know there were still an enormous amount of vehicles that were stopped for many, many hours, which we find completely unacceptable for those folks," Parker said.
Canadian truck driver Matthew Marchand told FOX News as night fell, he got out of his truck to check on others who were stranded.
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"A little bit later in the night, I had someone knocking on my door. He was driving a Tesla. He had his children in the car plus his wife, and they were running low on battery power and had virtually no supplies," he said.
Marchand said he was able to give them water and spare blankets to help keep them warm.
"The average traveler isn't prepared for this. That's part of the problem," he said.
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One of those trapped on the highway was Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine who was heading into the Capitol Monday afternoon and what was supposed to be a 2-hour drive ended up spanning over 27 hours on the highway.
"I had a meeting last night that I wanted to do in person, and it has turned into kind of a survival thing," he said. "Thank goodness I have a warm coat and had a full tank of gas."
MORE: Sen. Tim Kaine among hundreds of drivers stranded on I-95 in Virginia
Kaine said he saw several cars filled with families and senior citizens alongside his that had slid off the road or ran out of gas.
"It was a wet snow, and as soon as the sun went down, it turned to ice, and so it was very, very challenging," he said. "There were periods of five or six hours that we were just basically in the middle of the night, stopped in the middle of the interstate and not moving. I travel I-95 all the time. I will never forget this. I've never seen anything like it."
Several other vehicles were not as lucky, running out of gas and heat. And some were obviously caught off guard by the weather.
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"Some people were not prepared for it, not dressed appropriately," said driver Rebecca Barns. "They were wearing shorts and flip flops obviously not thinking it through."
She said it appeared some drivers managed to meet up with a food delivery service on the other side of the highway. "We saw people walk through the woods, and then come back with food from a delivery place," Barns said. "But I don't think (walking) was a viable option…it was dangerous to get out of the car and the road was just a sheet of ice."
The Virginia State Patrol dispatched several troopers to walk up and down the freeway offering food and medicine to people who needed it.
Crews spent Tuesday trying to move disabled vehicles off the freeway and get the ice and snow pushed off the freeway so that traffic could flow once again, but even that process was tedious.
"We have several vehicles that are out of fuel," Parker said. "We have several vehicles that have broken down. We have several vehicles that are just disabled in some different way. They're either stuck in the snow or a ditch, so that requires a lot of tow trucks."
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And it wasn't only the interstate that was experiencing major delays. Secondary and other roads were also jammed with stuck vehicles and traffic.
Luckily, there were no reports of injuries amid the thousands trapped, and no crashes, according to Corinne Geller with the Virginia State Patrol.
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Statewide, troopers responded to 1,016 traffic crashes and 1,026 reports of stuck or disabled vehicles since 12:01 a.m. Monday.