RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Drivers are still in shock as a new report details Virginia’s failed response to a winter storm that left hundreds stranded on I-95 in January.
The report from the Office of the State Inspector General details how Virginia agencies weren’t prepared for the fallout from that snowstorm, despite the fact that a similar incident had occurred on I-81 in 2018. According to the report, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management didn’t even have a hazard plan in place specific to snowfall.
8News spoke with a driver who had to endure all the consequences of those decisions.
Hundreds of cars were stuck on I-95 during the heavy snowfall in January.
“You failed at your job, you should be fired,” said driver Jennifer Travis who was inside one of those vehicles during the I-95 incident.
After two canceled flights, Travis and her family were driving from Orlando back home to Sterling when they ended up stuck in the I-95 traffic standstill. According to Travis, they knew nothing about the backup until they drove up to it. They sat for 11 hours and crawled home for four more.
“I grew up in Massachusetts. I’m used to snow. This was another level,” Travis said. “We were lucky. We had some water in the car and we had some bags of chips.”
Following the 2018 I-81 incident, state agencies found there needed to be better communication to drivers through alerts, more snow removal equipment, better traffic monitoring, and other improvements. Ben Sutphin of the Office of the State Inspector General says the action plan should have been followed.
“The 2018 storm had a lot of similarities to the 2022 storm in that you had inclines, and tractor trailers that couldn’t get up them and things sliding,” Sutphin said. “You had folks stuck overnight that couldn’t get through the traffic. It was just surprising to me that they hadn’t done that.”
Failure to do implement action items from the 2018 incident, Travis says, was dangerous.
“You put people’s lives in jeopardy that day,” she said.
Travis says she hopes this time the commonwealth learns from what happened. But for now, the Massachusetts native says she can’t imagine a long drive in winter ever again.
“I don’t think we will ever do that drive again in the winter just because of what had happened,” Travis said.
The report outlines specific recommendations to ensure that some of the failures of the past are not repeated. The full report can be found and read here.