RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Hundreds of cars are stranded on Interstate 95 near Stafford County while work crews continue cleaning up from yesterday’s winter storm. The interstate was closed around 5:45 a.m. and remains shut down to northbound and southbound traffic. Vehicles are being turned around or redirected onto Route 1. The 40-mile backup spans from the Fredericksburg area to Ruther Glen.
Some travelers have been stuck in their vehicles since as early as 3 p.m. Monday.
During an 11:30 a.m. media briefing, Marci Parker, district engineer for Fredericksburg VDOT, said that most people stuck in the standstill are still with their vehicles.
VDOT said it anticipates reopening the interstate by Wednesday at the latest after tow trucks have removed disabled vehicles that are blocking the roadway. After the vehicles are removed they will be able to clear the roads.
“None of the portion was pretreated because it started as rain, and if they pretreated it would have just washed away and wasted product and blocked traffic,” explained Marcie Parker, district engineer for Fredericksburg VDOT, during a media briefing at 11:30 a.m.
Parker said that heavy snowfall rates on Monday resulted in more snow than VDOT anticipated, and at a faster rate. She remarked that the agency could not keep up with the snowfall saying, “We cannot handle that.”
She said that VDOT did not think that they would need to shut down I-95. They worked through the night and hoped to reopen the roads by rush hour Tuesday morning, but at 4 a.m. they realized that would not be possible.
She said that some vehicles had four inches of ice underneath.
Virginia State Police said that there are no injuries or deaths related to the traffic jam and no reported crashes during the standstill. They started receiving reports about traffic on I-95 around 8:25 a.m. Monday and then it was a “chain reaction” – cars braking slowed down the vehicles behind them and traffic stopped.
Dozens of people have contacted 8News in desperation saying this had been a nightmare with no sign of relief.
“Everybody right now is just sleeping it off,” said Marvin Romero around 2 a.m. Tuesday. He had been stranded in his car with his two daughters since 3 p.m. Monday. “[We’ve been] waiting for the time when we can finally be free from this.”
“I’m here with my daughter, my other daughter is in the back sleeping, this was totally unexpected,” he said. “Thankfully, we had some water. I actually walked around handing water out to people who may need the little I had myself.”
Romero was able to get off I-95 later Tuesday morning.
Drivers who were stuck in the standstill said they had been starving, freezing and were worried about running out of gas before the traffic is relieved.
Nina Semesta was still stuck in the traffic as of 7:23 a.m. and said she is afraid of running out of essentials.
“Right now, it’s below freezing. No easy access to gas, food or water and we can’t even exit the highway,” Semesta said.
The Virginia Department of Transportation said the winter storm is to blame and crews are “working diligently” to get several disabled trucks off the highway in Stafford and Spotsylvania.
At 5:43 Tuesday morning, VDOT’s Northern Virginia District tweeted that I-95 was closed northbound and southbound between exit 152 at Dumfries and exit 104 at Carmel Church. During the media briefing Tuesday morning, the timeline for when the interstate was closed and traffic rerouted was unclear. Although the agency tweeted about the closure at 5:43 a.m., they said later in the day that the interstate was closed at 8 a.m.
In response to the ongoing situation, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Fredericksburg District tweeted an update at 7:43 a.m. saying, “We are working to get traffic moving again as best we can using every available interchange between Prince William & Caroline counties. There are interchanges at the following mm: Exit 104, 110 Caroline, 118, 126 Spotsy, 130 FXBG 133, 136, 140, 143, 148 Stafford, 150 & 152 PW.”
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also shared an update on Twitter around 8:17 a.m. saying, “My team has been working throughout the night alongside VSP, VDOT and VDEM to respond to the situation on I-95. State and local emergency personnel are continuing to clear downed trees, assist disabled vehicles, and re-route drivers.”
A short time later at 8:27 a.m. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine said on Twitter that he had been stuck in the standstill as well. “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 @VaDOT to see how we can help other Virginians in this situation. Please stay safe everyone,” he said
Around 10 a.m. Tuesday, 8News received an update from VDOT regarding the standstill noting that crews are working on the situation and motorists should continue to avoid the area.
“We know many travelers have been stuck on Interstate 95 in our region for extraordinary periods of time over the past 24 hours, in some cases since Monday morning. This is unprecedented, and we continue to steadily move stopped trucks to make progress toward restoring lanes. In addition to clearing the trucks, we are treating for snow and several inches of ice that has accumulated around them to ensure that when the lanes reopen, motorists can safely proceed to their destination,” said Marcie Parker, P.E. VDOT Fredericksburg District Engineer, in the media release.