Report: State government did not learn from previous snowstorm in January

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia government failed to learn many lessons from a 2018 snowstorm that caused a traffic jam on the freeway, as a similar event along Interstate 95 in January that left hundreds of motorists stranded, a state watchdog concluded. The Office of Inspector General’s report, released Friday, criticized the performance of state transportation, police and emergency management agencies during the severe snowstorm that began Jan. 3, the Richmond reported. Times Dispatch.

Traffic jams along a 40-mile (65-kilometer) stretch of I-95 in both directions not far from the nation’s capital sparked outrage from motorists, some of whom were stuck in their vehicles overnight and asked for help on social media. In April, a state-commissioned report created by a nonprofit group blamed no single person or agency. But he found that state agencies had collectively “lost situational awareness” and failed to cope with the mounting traffic jam from a confluence of heavy snowfall, traffic abnormally high and staff shortages related to COVID-19. Up to 11 inches (28 cm) of snow fell in the area.

“They need to be prepared when things go wrong and they don’t get what they expect,” said Ben Sutphin, audit manager for the I-95 investigation. State communication to the public about the severity of road hazards was either ineffective or misleading, the report said. Drivers also underestimated the dangers due to mild weather over the New Year’s weekend before the storm. The report specifically cited a message to stranded motorists that “state and residents are coming as soon as possible with supplies and to move you.”

A lack of backup power for the state Department of Transportation’s traffic cameras also made it difficult to monitor highway conditions, the report said. The Inspector General did not blame the Governor at the time. Ralph Northam for not declaring a state of emergency before the storm “because the predicted event…has not reached the level necessary to issue a declaration of emergency”. Northam, a Democrat, was in the final days of his administration, with Republican Glenn Youngkin taking office less than two weeks later. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who himself was at an impasse, said Friday he hoped the report’s recommendations would be followed. “We should always apply the lessons learned to improve the safety of Virginians.”

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