Va. congresswoman seeks answers on next steps following IG report on January snowstorm

A Virginia congresswoman wants to know what steps are being taken to prevent future snow-related traffic backups such as the one that snarled traffic and stranded motorists on Interstate 95 last January.

In a letter to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who represents the area of Fredericksburg that was part of the mileslong traffic jam, asked what he is doing to ensure that the state’s transportation department will put in place the recommendations outlined in the after-action report on the Jan. 3 snowstorm, as well as the recommendations from the report on the 2018 storm that shut down parts of Interstate 81.

Spanberger acknowledged that Youngkin was not yet in office when these storms happened, but she said that it now falls to his administration to make sure that the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) and other agencies implement the recommendations of the report.



The Youngkin camp blamed former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration for failing to “adequately prepare and plan for the I-95 snow debacle.”

A Youngkin spokesperson described the subject of the Office of the State Inspector General’s performance audit “the January 3-4, 2022 Northam Administration snow incident.” The audit’s title is the “2022 I-95 Snow Incident of January 3-4 Performance Audit.”

“Governor Youngkin and the administration successfully weathered three snow-related events, mitigated risks, and ensured appropriate resources were available for our response teams and they performed well. … Under the Governor’s leadership, snow events following his inauguration were managed to the standard of preparing for worst-case scenarios as opposed to under-preparing for snow emergency events,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Other questions Spanberger seeks answers to include why the recommendations for the 2018 after-action report weren’t implemented, accountability processes to ensure lessons are implemented, steps being taken to develop a “hazard-specific” emergency plan for snowfall, and lastly, steps that have been taken to address communication failures identified in the inspector general’s report.

The 29-page audit by IG Michael Westfall included nine critical findings.

  • VDOT didn’t apply lessons learned from a similar snow-caused gridlock in 2018 on Interstate 81 near Bristol.
  • Virginia doesn’t have a specific emergency plan in place for dealing with snow events.
  • Messages sent to the public warning motorists to avoid entering I-95 were unclear and unreliable.
  • Interagency communication at VDOT was not effective.
  • There weren’t sufficient resources in place at VDOT area headquarters to handle the snow removal.
  • There was no primary effort to assist stranded motorists, many of whom had to abandon their vehicles in the freezing cold, as VDOT and Virginia State Police (VSP) were primarily focused on their responsibilities to open the highway.
  • Despite the deteriorating situation, VDOT Fredericksburg management didn’t alert executive management quickly enough and the absence of a Joint Information Center early in the storm contributed to poor communication between VDOT, VSP and Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).
  • There was no backup power for traffic cameras along the affected section of I-95. Most of the traffic cameras were not operational during the storm, making it difficult for officials to assess the scope of the disaster.
  • While January storm’s intensity was unexpected, and therefore didn’t rise to the level of issuing an emergency declaration, the IG recommends that in the future, a Declaration of Preparedness should be issued to allow for more resource staging, including the National Guard being called up to help.

In April, a 41-page after action report requested by VDOT, VDEM and VSP was published detailing the state’s response to the storm and what should be done in the future.

Last June, a report on the findings of another audit on VDOT’s snow removal process — which did not cover the Jan. 3 and Jan. 4 snow event — found that the agency does not have sufficient contractors to assist in heavy snow removal.

WTOP’s Shayna Estulin contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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A winter wonderland in the D.C. area.

St. Anselms Abbey DC snow.

St. Anselms Abbey DC snow.

A beautiful snow covered puppy enjoying the winter weather.

This is Mason Flaherty enjoying sledding in the snow.

From the Widewater area of North Stafford.

A snowy start to the new year here at the White House. (Courtesy of the White House)

A sunset view of snow and waterways in the region. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Winter storm clouds moving through Reston, Virginia. (WTOP/Will Vitka)

The Lincoln Memorial stands on the opposite end of the reflecting pool in this snowy scene.

A nice white coat covers the World War II memorial on the National Mall.

A few residents make use of the thick snow to assemble a snow man on the National Mall.

The Washington Monument looks down on the snow-covered ground at its base.

Snow coats Northwest D.C. (WTOP/Rick Massimo)

Snow coats Northwest D.C. (WTOP/Rick Massimo)

Snow lines the streets in Bethesda, Maryland. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)

Snow blankets Chevy Chase, Maryland. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)

Snow and ice drape the trees in Prince George’s County, Maryland. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

The U.S. Capitol is shrouded in snow Monday. (WTOP/Zeke Hartner)

The Capitol gets a dose of snow.

Chevy Chase in the snow. (WTOP/Jacob Kerr)

Mile 1 on Route 5. “Stay home.” (Courtesy Marcel Westney)

The roads in Rockville, Maryland, have seen their share of snow. (WTOP/Craig Schwalb)

Dogs still have to have their walks, even on snow days. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

A plow travels along Wisconsin Avenue on Monday morning.

Heading out on the snowy sidewalks in Northwest D.C.

A fox plays with a dog toy during snowfall in McLean, Virginia. (Courtesy Kathleen Kline Moore)

In Waldorf, Maryland, a freshly plowed parking lot is already getting recovered in snow. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

polar bear and penguin inflatables
Snow made a winter wonderland for some holiday inflatables that are still up in Alexandria, Virginia, on Jan. 3. (Courtesy Ed Kelleher)

Southeast D.C. is getting its fair share of snow. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)

Southeast D.C. is getting its fair share of snow. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)

There’s a soccer field somewhere behind the trees in Reston, Virginia, where the snow gets heavier and heavier. (WTOP/Will Vitka)

Heavy snow, low visibility on Route 15 in Prince William County in Virginia, near Haymarket. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

Route 15 approaches white-out conditions in Virginia’s Prince William County. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

The season’s first snowfall is making itself known in Annapolis, Maryland. (WTOP/Chris Roth)

Snow piles up on the road on U.S. 301 in Brandywine. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

Snow starts to pile up in southern Prince George’s County, Maryland. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

A plow gets ready in Bowie, Maryland. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

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polar bear and penguin inflatables

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