The Hill: Virginia lawmaker asks Youngkin how he’ll prevent I-95 gridlocks during snowstorms

THE HILL, ZACH SCHONFELD

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) sent a letter to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) on Monday asking what steps he is taking to avoid future traffic gridlocks after a snowstorm in January left travelers stranded for hours on I-95.

The snowstorm happened days before Youngkin took office, but Spanberger urged the governor to implement recommendations from a newly released watchdog report that found many of the issues could have been avoided if state officials had implemented suggestions from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) following a similar incident in late 2018.

“It is vital that we never again see a repeat of the circumstances that clogged a critical transportation artery, left Virginians — young and old — stranded without food and medication in their vehicles for more than 24 hours and demonstrated a vulnerability to our Commonwealth’s and nation’s security,” Spanberger wrote in the letter.

“Preventing a repeat of these horrible circumstances requires intense oversight by your administration,” she said, while noting the incident occurred before Youngkin’s administration began.

The state’s Office of the Inspector General released an audit earlier this month critical of how state agencies responded to the January snowstorm, which left Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and hundreds of other travelers stranded overnight on I-95 south of Washington.

The audit followed a state-commissioned report released in April that indicated state agencies collectively “lost situational awareness” while not placing blame on any single official or agency.

The inspector general’s audit found that state officials did not apply lessons learned from a similar snow event in December 2018 that caused issues on I-81 in Southwest Virginia, leading to an after-action report by VDOT with recommendations.

The audit also criticized the state for not having a hazard-specific plan for snowfall and not effectively communicating to the public.

The inspector general’s office recommended state officials apply lessons learned, better plan for snow-specific events and provide accurate information to the public.

In the letter, Spanberger asked Youngkin what steps his administration is taking to ensure all the audit’s recommendations are implemented.

“I am deeply concerned by the newly-released IG audit, which takes a very critical view of the Commonwealth’s level of preparation in advance of that early January storm, our current level of preparedness were we to face similar circumstances in the coming winter months and our state agencies’ history of not implementing fulsome process improvements,” Spanberger wrote.

The congresswoman asked Youngkin why changes were not made after the 2018 after-action report and what accountability measures will be put in place to ensure future lessons are implemented in a timely fashion.

“The Northam administration failed to adequately prepare and plan for the I-95 snow debacle,” said Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter.

She said Youngkin appreciated the inspector general’s audit and has worked to mitigate risks from snow events since taking office in January days after the I-95 incident.

“Under the governor’s leadership, snow events following his inauguration were managed to the standard of preparing for worst case scenarios as opposed to under preparing for snow emergency events,” said Porter.

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