January 19, 2022

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Refreeze continues to paralyze I-95; drivers trapped for hours – WTOP

4 min read
Interstate 95 traffic at a standstill on Tuesday morning near Dumfries, Virginia. (Courtesy VDOT)

Have you or someone you know been stuck on I-95? Tell WTOP about your experiences.

Listen to WTOP live online and on the radio at 103.5 FM. Download the free WTOP News app for Android and Apple phones to sign up for custom traffic and weather alerts.


If you can avoid Interstate 95 in Virginia for Tuesday morning commute, do so.

A horrendous traffic jam that began during Monday morning’s winter storm has grown steadily worse with plummeting overnight temperatures causing melting snow to refreeze. As of 5 a.m. Tuesday, the WTOP Traffic Center was following at least four trouble spots on I-95 alone from spinouts in icy conditions, each involving multiple spinouts including tractor trailers.

Hundreds of drivers are still stranded in the Stafford area. Some have reported been at a standstill for over 12 hours, shutting off their engines in frigid weather to conserve dwindling fuel.

Plans are underway to guide vehicles currently stopped on the interstate to nearby interchanges, where they can access alternate routes. The Virginia Department of Transportation and Gov. Ralph Northam’s office have not returned multiple requests from WTOP for an update on reopening efforts.

I-95 remains closed both ways from Dumfries (Exit 152) to Carmel Church (Exit 104) in the Fredericksburg area. Callers on Tuesday reported crews in the Quantico area were finally letting traffic inch past crashed trucks — only to run into another blockage down the road.

WTOP traffic reporter Dave Dildine called it a worst-case scenario.

“Some people were seen abandoning their vehicles in snow-covered travel lanes, walking down I-95 to parts unknown,” Dildine said. “Some callers were sobbing and scared. Psychologically is it extremely distressing to be motionless on a highway for hours on end without knowing how much longer it will last.”


Road closures across the region

Maryland

  • Clara Barton Parkway: Closed between MacArthur Boulevard/Glen Echo turnaround and the Maryland-D. C. state line due to multiple downed trees.

Virginia

  • I-95 in Garrisonville: Southbound traffic stopped between VA-610/Garrisonville Road (Exit 143) and VA-8900/Centreport Parkway (Exit 136) due to multiple crashes and disabled vehicles.
  • I-95 in Woodford: Northbound traffic stopped between VA-639/Ladysmith (Exit 110) and VA-606/Thornburg (Exit 118) due to multiple disabled trucks and tractor-trailers.
  • I-95 in Stafford: Northbound traffic stopped between VA-610/Garrisonville Road (Exit 143) and VA-619/Triangle (Exit 150) due to multiple crashes and disabled vehicles.
  • US-17 in Hartwood: Closed north of VA-612/Hartwood Road due to a crash involving multiple tractor-trailers.

For the latest road and traffic conditions, see WTOP’s traffic page or listen to updates every 10 minutes online or on the air at 103.5 FM. Submit traffic tips by calling 866-304-WTOP or tagging @WTOPtraffic on Twitter.


Regional officials promised major highways had been pretreated and fleets of plows made ready to roll out before Monday’s storms. But snowfall rates of over two inches per hour and a high volume of traffic made for a perfect storm rivaling other notorious travel disasters in recent memory.

Trapped commuters on I-95 ran out of gas with kids and pets in their car. Some drivers were forced to spend the overnight on the highway with no bathrooms nearby and temperatures plunging into the low 20s.

“We’ve been parked here for five hours south of Quantico,” Claire Hughes, a commuter on I-95, told WTOP. “We have seen no tow trucks, no broken down vehicles, no police trying to open lanes up. It’s just a standstill parking lot, it’s atrocious.”

NBC News correspondent Josh Lederman found himself in a traffic jam about half an hour south of the District on Monday afternoon. As of around daybreak on Tuesday, he still hadn’t budged. In a Twitter thread, Lederman said people were taking exercise breaks and walking their dogs between derelict vehicles.

Like hundreds of others, Lederman — accompanied by his dog Jonas — spent the cold night on the interstate nervously eyeing the fuel gauge, going hours without seeing police or plows. Lederman melted snow for his dog to drink.

“I have some gum and about a third of a bottle of water. If things get really bad, I’ve got food for my dog, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that,” Lederman told WTOP by phone. “If you were in an emergency right now, there is absolutely no way anybody could get to you for something medical or otherwise. People who are here are just stuck.”

Dildine explained that the paralysis was caused by heavy snow and too many cars for road conditions to sustain.

“The heavy burst of snow Monday morning set off a chain reaction of truck crashes and stalled vehicles,” Dildine said. “As traffic initially lurched to a stop, snow rapidly piled up between vehicles. With plows unable to reach the snow-covered mainline, more drivers began spinning their wheels and the severity of the bottlenecks continued to worsen.”

Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kelly Hannon said crews are concentrating their efforts on clearing blocked trucks and treating road surfaces for several inches of snow and ice accumulation.

“We know this has been unprecedented and people have been stuck for prolonged periods and we remain at work through the night to get things moving again,” Hannon said early Tuesday. “We certainly understand and empathize with the distress that so many people are going through, and again, our whole mission is to keep traffic moving.”

WTOP’s Matt Small contributed to this report.

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