Virginia transportation heads apologize for nightmare on I-95, promising improvements: ‘You have my full commitment’

Virginia News

This image provided by the Virginia department of Transportation shows a closed section of Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg, Va. Monday Jan. 3, 2022. Both northbound and southbound sections of the highway were closed due to snow and ice. (Virginia Department of Transportation via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — One week after the Interstate-95 travel nightmare left hundreds of people — including U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine — stranded for more than a dozen hours, Virginia’s transportation heads are apologizing.

“I am just so sorry that that happened to anybody. It is heartbreaking for me that that happened to anyone,” said Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine at a board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Beside her sat Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Stephen Brich, who said, “Did we do everything right, for the department? The answer is no.”

The officials appeared to take some vague responsibility, but have not yet said exactly what should have been done differently. During a presentation, VDOT Chief of Maintenance and Operations Kevin Gregg listed recovery-crippling factors that he said were out of their control.

He mentioned variables like the quick snowfall, heavy traffic, disabled vehicles, power outages, and failing cell phone service blocking both communication and visuals of the interstate.

“I want to present these as facts. I don’t want anyone walking out of this room thinking that we’re making excuses for anything,” Gregg said. 

Gregg added that the warm weather leading up to the storm may have made the state’s messaging to stay home and avoid driving in the storm 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.”

As many questions regarding the state’s storm preparation and response linger, officials said VDOT, Virginia State Police and the Department of Emergency Management are together crafting a report examining what happened before and during the storm, and what lessons were learned.

“You have my full commitment,” said Brich.”We will look at every one of them [lessons learned] and work to interject that into our business practice and change our procedures to help ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

While this investigation continues, they said eyes are on the possible storm this weekend.

“We can’t wait six to eight weeks to do things. We’re gonna have to start improving things today,” Valentine said. 

Officials admitted there are several “facts that still need to be gathered.”

WFXR’s sister station, WRIC, is still wondering what officials did to try and solve problems like cell phone communication failures. They said the multi-agency report will examine situations just like that.

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