‘I am just so sorry’: Virginia transportation officials apologize after I-95 snowstorm backup

Virginia transportation officials apologized Tuesday for last week’s backup on Interstate 95, which left some drivers stranded for more than 24 hours after a winter storm led to slick road conditions.

“I am just so sorry that that happened to anyone. It is heartbreaking,” said Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine at a Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting.

Valentine said there is an interagency action report being put together reviewing what actions were taken before and during the storm, and what lessons can be learned going forward.

“Our commitment is that we are going to take every opportunity we can to improve what we do and to protect the traveling public to the very best of our ability,” Valentine said.

Transportation officials at the meeting highlighted some of the steps taken before Monday’s severe weather, including about 4,000 VDOT workers and 7,000 pieces of equipment that were mobilized across Virginia, as well as heightened public messaging that a major storm was coming.

(Courtesy Virginia Department of Transportation)

VDOT Chief of Maintenance and Operations Kevin Gregg said the warm weather leading up to the storm may have made their public outreach less impactful.

“I think that was part of our messaging, our difficulty messaging is getting folks to realize, ‘Hey, this is going to be bad,” Gregg said. “It’s hard to believe that when the temperature is 60, 70 degrees.”

Gregg also said there were a number of unprecedented factors that made their response much more challenging, including the historic rates of snowfall (up to 3 inches per hour), the heavy traffic on the interstate, disabled trucks causing multiple blockages, and power outages interrupting cellphone communication with field personal, which caused traffic cameras to go offline.

(Courtesy Virginia Department of Transportation)

“I don’t want anybody to walk out of this room thinking that we are making excuses for anything,” Gregg said. “These are the facts as we know them. These are the facts that we will take to our after action to begin work to see what happened, why it happened, where we can improve.”

The multiagency review will involve VDOT, the Virginia State Police and Virginia Department of Emergency Management. It will look at public messaging around the storm, intra-agency and interagency communication, and it will include a comprehensive timeline of what happened.

(Courtesy Virginia Department of Transportation)

“Did we do everything right for the department, the answer is no,” VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich said

Brich said the department will start implementing changes to its preparation and response procedures to storms even before the report is finalized and released.

Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin is an anchor/reporter for WTOP. She started her career in New York City as a local TV reporter and has since covered foreign affairs and national politics as a Washington correspondent. She also anchored a nightly news show for an international network.

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