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Northam: ‘Perfect storm’ led to overnight gridlock on I-95

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tempImageSA4Ui9.jpg I-95 on Tuesday, Jan. 4 I-95 backup

A view of Interstate 95 from a motorist stuck in the northbound lanes this morning south of Fredericksburg.

A “perfect storm” of poor weather conditions led to a traffic jam on Interstate 95 Monday that left hundreds of motorists stranded in their vehicles during a snowstorm, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. 

The traffic jam began around midday on Monday following several tractor trailer accidents outside Fredericksburg. Hundreds of people were trapped in their vehicles overnight in below-freezing temperatures, including families traveling with children and pets.

“First, we had rain, which meant that [the Virginia Department of Transportation] couldn't adequately pre-treat the roads. Then we had slushy snow that fell faster than our snowplows could move it. And then, as the night fell, the temperatures dropped below freezing. All of those together created the perfect storm for what happened on I-95 last night: multiple jack-knifed tractor trailers blocking the highway and leading to miles of backups with people stuck in their cars for many hours,” Northam said.

As of early Tuesday evening, VDOT crews and Virginia State Police were still working to clear the roadways and reopen the road. 

Many drivers abandoned their vehicles and tractor trailers on the highway overnight, and there are stretches of I-95 that remain closed as VDOT crews tow vehicles out of the way. No injuries have been reported. 

Although I-95 was not officially closed to traffic until about 4 a.m. Tuesday, it was effectively shut down in stretches much earlier by crashes, stuck cars and tractor-trailers that jack-knifed across the roadway. 

Northam said the National Guard is currently on standby to help reopen I-95. But he said that, as of 4 p.m., no localities had requested assistance from the National Guard, and state agencies have all the resources needed to clear the roadway. 

Some Virginia lawmakers have called on Northam to declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard, including Virginia House of Delegates Speaker-designee Todd Gilbert, R-15th, of Shenandoah, who called the situation “untenable” in a statement Tuesday. 

Northam said he did not plan to declare a state of emergency because that is typically something declared “hours, ideally days before the emergency” and is “not something that helps with rapid response to an emergency that is occurring.” 

“VDOT, state police and other agencies are working as fast as possible to clear the road, get traffic moving and make sure that everyone is safe. They'll continue to do that until every vehicle is cleared and traffic is able to move freely again,” Northam said. 

Reach Daniel Berti at dberti@fauquier.com

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