Bill aims to prevent another I-95 disaster in Virginia after hundreds stranded in snow storm

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia lawmaker wants to prevent a disaster on Interstate 95 from happening again. A bill he’s proposing aims to slow down trucks during winter weather.

Earlier this week, hundreds of drivers were stranded in a 40-mile standstill between Richmond and Washington, D.C. during a winter storm. Many were stuck overnight without food and running out of gas.

Senator David Marsden, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said a number of factors led to the unprecedented backup but his bill is focused on the disabled trucks that blocked traffic.

“It was all the jackknifed trucks that created the problem and I think they need to own that part of the problem and be willing to make this minimal change,” Marsden said.

If passed, Marsden said his bill would require trucks to stay in the right lane when it snows, forcing them to slow down and hopefully preventing blockages that can be caused by lane changes.

“If it’s snowing, it applies,” Marsden said when asked what would trigger the rule. “Just like there is a requirement in Virginia that, if it’s raining, you have to have your windshield wipers on.” 

Marsden said police could enforce the rule like any other traffic ticket, with a fine of about $100 per violation.

The Virginia Trucking Association is not taking a stance yet. VTA President and CEO Dale Bennett said in a phone interview that they want to read the bill first but it’s still being drafted.

However, Bennett did raise some initial concerns during a meeting with Marsden on Friday, such as how to inform out-of-state drivers.

“I do have some concerns that we’re going to create more problems than it’s trying to solve. What you’re going to create is a wall of trucks if someone is trying to merge onto the interstate,” Bennett said. “Operationally I think there are a lot of things we need to discuss to make sure there are not unintended consequences.”

Marsden said he will take that feedback into consideration during the 2022 session, which starts on Jan. 12.

“Response is always harder than prevention and I think that is where we need to focus right here. Let’s not let this happen again,” Marsden said.

In a statement on Friday, the Virginia Department of Transportation said a multi-agency review of the I-95 situation is now underway.

“While initial reports indicate that extreme weather conditions combined with disabled vehicles and multiple incidents were the primary factors contributing to the unprecedented blockages, we recognize the severe distress experienced by those traveling on January 3, 2022,” the statement said.

VDOT said the review will include “a comprehensive timeline of events…to address performance gaps and identify ways to mitigate the challenges faced during this incident.”

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