Richmond Times-Dispatch: Spanberger asks Northam, Youngkin to investigate I-95 ‘catastrophe’

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, MICHAEL MARTZ

With a change of power looming in Richmond, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, is asking Gov. Ralph Northam and Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin for a state investigation of a nearly 50-mile backup that left travelers stranded for more than a day on an ice-bound section of Interstate 95 in the heart of the newly created congressional district she is running to represent.

Spanberger urged the current and incoming governors on Wednesday to “conduct a full-scale, multi-agency After Action Report detailing the events, decisions, factors, and challenges leading up to and following the storm, with a full accounting of what went wrong and what went right, and recommendations for process improvement.”

The two-term congresswoman, who is running for re-election this year in a radically different 7th Congressional District, jumped squarely into the public furor over what went wrong to cause the backup that began during an unexpectedly heavy snowstorm on Monday morning and lasted until Tuesday night, with thousands of people stuck in their vehicles in sub-freezing temperatures.

“While we cannot prevent or change the weather, we can take active steps to learn from this week’s worst-case scenario realize and ensure we know what caused, predicated and/or allowed this catastrophe on I-95 to occur — so that we can prevent it from happening again,” she said in a one-page letter to Northam and Youngkin.

The Department of Transportation already is preparing to begin a rapid review of the entire incident, and Northam’s office promised a thorough investigation of what happened.

“The Virginia emergency response team does exhaustive after-action reviews of these types of incidents to determine what went well and what could have been done differently — the governor has made it clear he expects that will happen in this case,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said Wednesday in response to the letter.

“As the governor has said repeatedly, he recognizes the fear and frustration of these drivers and is deeply grateful to the first responders for ensuring there were zero injuries,” Yarmosky said.

Right now, she said, “Initial reports indicate that this was caused by trucks jackknifing in quickly escalating weather conditions, which caused a chain reaction and made it difficult for emergency vehicles to get through.”

The backup occurred between the Dumfries exit on I-95 in eastern Prince William County and the Ruther Glen exit in Caroline County, with the Fredericksburg area in the middle. All of it lies within the new 7th Congressional District that the Virginia Supreme Court approved last month, moving the boundaries far north of Spanberger’s current home in western Henrico County.

Spanberger announced last week that she intends to run for re-election in the new 7th, rather than challenge Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, who now represents western Henrico and western Chesterfield County constituents who currently reside in the 7th.

The new 7th District includes Caroline, Spotsylvania, King George and Stafford counties, the city of Fredericksburg and part of Prince William County. To the west it also includes Greene, Madison, Orange and Culpeper counties.

In her letter, she expressed “my grave concerns over the immense and egregious delays” along the nearly 50-mile stretch of interstate and recounted “harrowing stories from Seventh District constituents stranded in these conditions.”

“Among those trapped included families with infants, Virginians on their way to parents’ funerals, and commuters just trying to get to or home from work,” she wrote. “During this ordeal, they reported receiving no guidance, information, or support for hours; as they attempted to ration gas, stay warm, and calm their scared children.”

With Youngkin to be inaugurated on Jan. 15, Spanberger asked him and Northam to “work together to ensure there is a clear understanding of what events and decisions led to or created the circumstances whereby a major transportation artery along the East Coast of the United States was at a standstill for more than 24 hours.”

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