FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — All interchanges on I-95 are back open and drivers are finally getting off the interstate after being stranded in the middle of a snowstorm for more than 24 hours.
Officials from the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia State Police are continuing to work to remove numerous abandoned cars after Monday's winter storm wreaked havoc on the highway, causing crashes, spin-outs, stalled trucks and other blockages.
In total, a 40-mile stretch of the interstate was impacted and hundreds of drivers were left stranded in standstill traffic since Monday evening, including U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia); after 27 hours stranded in traffic, Kaine made it to his final destination -- the Capitol -- shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday.
VDOT Fredericksburg tweeted at 5:15 p.m. that there are no longer people stranded on I-95, but there are 20 abandoned vehicles left that need to be removed before plows can come through to clear ice and snow from travel lanes.
Kevin Settle, superintendent of Virginia State Police, said that all vehicles have been accounted for and no one was killed or injured.
Around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, VDOT announced I-95 north and southbound has reopened in both directions after all disabled vehicles were removed from the interstate.
Drivers are urged to avoid any unnecessary travel as some secondary roads remain closed with downed trees and fallen powerlines.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a Tuesday afternoon press briefing that snow, rain and freezing weather overnight created a "perfect storm." Northam explained crews were prepared to respond to a snowstorm on Monday, but they couldn't pretreat roads with salt because of Sunday's rain, which would have rendered the treatment useless. He said state officials warned drivers to stay off the roads during the snowstorm, but out-of-state drivers may not have heard these warnings.
"This was an incredibly unusual event, multiple tractor-trailers jackknifed on the interstate and created a mess that [takes time] to clean up regardless of the weather," Northam said.
Marcie Parker, P.E. VDOT Fredericksburg District Engineer, explained in a media briefing Tuesday that the problems began after the overnight rain on Monday turned to snow which fell rapidly throughout the day, spanning two to five inches per hour for more than four hours.
VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich said despite the 10 inches of snow that fell in a short amount of time Monday, traffic on I-95 was moving until about 5 p.m. when it continued moving, but slowly. Crews could manage responding to crews, but traffic came to a complete standstill on the interstate at around midnight.
Officials closed I-95 at 4 a.m., after warning drivers for hours to stay away.
Tuesday afternoon officials faced the challenge of sending in a fleet of tow trucks to remove cars from the highway. Some vehicles were broken down, out of gas, stuck in snowbanks or completely abandoned by drivers.
Shelters were opened by localities for those who need them.
Parker confirmed that they hope the situation will be rectified at some point this evening — depending on how fast tow trucks move — and that they do expect the highway to be cleared by Wednesday morning; she said the process is going faster than expected.
WUSA9 spoke with one driver who said she left her house in Fredericksburg around 8 p.m. Monday and was still stuck south of Stafford on I-95 Tuesday morning.
"I'm fine, I'm tired," she said. "I didn't expect to be awake at this hour, and I didn't expect to be outside in the snow in gridlock traffic ... All things considered, things could be worse."
She noted, at the time of the interview, a dangerous situation is getting less dangerous because it hasn't snowed for hours. But standstill traffic remained.
She said she left her home in Fredericksburg for Alexandria when her power went out. She had no idea how bad the backup was until she was in it.
After all cars are moved, plows will go in to help clear the snow from the highway and then ice will have to be carved off of the pavement.
VDOT called the backup "unprecedented" in a statement.
"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 Parker.