The Virginia Department of Transportation is warning drivers to stay away from Interstate 95 Tuesday morning so crews can free up hundreds of drivers who remain stranded or in slow-moving traffic in temperatures well-below freezing, in what officials are describing as an “unprecedented” event.
The situation currently unfolding in Northern Virginia comes after a winter storm dumped up to a foot of snow and toppled trees across the Fredericksburg region Monday. As of right now, Interstate-95 remains closed northbound and southbound between Exits 104 and 152 leading up to the Washington, D.C., metro area and there are reports of drivers being trapped on the icy roads for at least 19 hours, such as Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.
“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,” Marcie Parker, an engineer with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Fredericksburg district, said in a statement.
“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,” she added.
VDOT also said “plans are underway to guide vehicles currently stopped on interstate to nearby interchanges, where they can access alternate routes” and “resources from across Virginia have been deployed to support debris removal, road treatment and clearance efforts on I-95 and state-maintained roads in the Fredericksburg area, with more trucks arriving this morning.”
In one rescue, a caller told Fox5 DC that he had a medical condition, “everything was stuck and I just panicked.”
“They had to come get me… they picked us up and brought us to the hospital,” he said to the station while getting emotional.
WTOP also reported that some drivers have been in their cars for over 15 hours.
In a Twitter thread, NBC News reporter Josh Lederman said early Tuesday morning that the “interstate is absolutely littered with disabled vehicles. Not just cars. Semis, everything. Nobody can move. People are running out of gas or abandoning vehicles.”
“For a while, people tried to clear their stuck cars my shoveling with their feet. Most quickly gave up. But, then what? There is zero possibility for any tow truck to get to you right now in the thousands of cars backed up,” he continued.
He later tweeted that after 11 hours, a portion of the northbound lanes were moving again, yet “southbound still completely shut down and the line of backed up cars is MILES long.”
Kristen Powers, an ABC7 reporter who also says she is stuck in the mess, tweeted this morning that another driver told her that she “thought she was going for a 15-minute drive, so she didn’t bring any food or water,” but ended up being “stuck for almost 12 hours and is now running low on gas.”
“I’m told some people have been leaving their car to walk miles for food. Others have started to ask nearby people in stuck cars/trucks for any food or water. People are turning on and off their cars trying to conserve gas,” she also wrote, while adding that traffic appears to be creeping forward as of 5:30 a.m.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, in a tweet, said “an emergency message is going to all stranded drivers connecting them to support, and the state is working with localities to open warming shelters as needed.”
“While sunlight is expected to help @VaDOT clear the road, all Virginians should continue to avoid 1-95,” he added. “State and local emergency personnel are continuing to clear downed trees, assist disabled vehicles, and re-route drivers.”
The Virginia National Guard told Fox News Digital it “has not received any formal requests for assistance in the last 24 hours, but continues to monitor the situation to be able to respond if requested.”
Real-time updates on Google Maps showed ongoing traffic-related issues on roads starting on I-95 in Ruther Glen – just north of Richmond – all the way up to exits at the Pentagon.
Temperatures across the region currently remain in the high teens and aren’t expected to pass the freezing mark until midday Tuesday, offering little natural relief to the situation.
VDOT said “crews will continue in emergency response 24 hours a day until all roads are passable.”