VDOT News - Statewide
Emily Wade, VDOT
Spencer Gilbert, VDOT
Jan. 13, 2022
VDOT BRIEFS COMMONWEALTH TRANSPORTATION BOARD ON WINTER STORM FRIDA
Extreme weather event affected entire Commonwealth, 58,000 miles of roadway
RICHMOND, Va. – At its January board meeting, Kevin Gregg, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) chief of maintenance and operations, briefed the Commonwealth Transportation Board on the extreme weather event Winter Storm Frida.
VDOT is currently coordinating with its partners at the Virginia State Police (VSP) and Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) to develop a multi-agency after-action review. This review should take about six to eight weeks to complete and will address public messaging and communications, the mobilization of resources, coordination among agencies and how to mitigate the challenges that the three agencies will face in future extreme weather events.
Winter Storm Frida affected the entire Commonwealth. Heavy rain fell across the state before changing to heavy, wet snow, falling at historic rates of up to 3 inches per hour and extreme temperature shifts of more than 40 degrees. High winds contributed to downed trees and approximately 500,000 households experienced a loss of power.
Preparation for inclement weather is a formal, operational procedure for VDOT, VSP, and VDEM. Statewide teams meet ahead of all significant inclement weather events to receive official weather forecasts and review response plans, material levels, staffing updates and communications strategy.
Outreach to the public formally commenced on Jan. 2, with media releases from VDOT district teams on local impacts and a statewide release with a look at wider impacts. Communications teams conducted more than 14 interviews with the media on Jan. 2 with messaging regarding the risks of the storm. Communications continued throughout the storm with district and central office updates, releases, social media, and direct messaging.
Crews were staged along the Interstate 95 corridor beginning at 5 a.m. Monday for snow-removal operations. Traffic levels were high in the hours leading up to interstate incidents, with northbound and southbound I-95 volumes significantly higher than 2019 levels.
Snowfall rates in the Fredericksburg area reached an historic 3 inches per hour. Many commercial vehicles had challenges climbing hills on I-95, disabling large trucks, stopping traffic flow and blocking routes for snowplows and towing vehicles. With the record snowfall rates, the snow accumulation further disabled vehicles and impeded response efforts. Power outages impacted cell towers and traffic cameras making communications with those conducting response efforts difficult.
With nearly 4,000 VDOT staff members and more than 16,800 contractors, teams across the state worked around-the-clock to clear blockages and reopen roadways.
Extreme challenges were encountered on other major roadways in the Commonwealth, including I-64, I-81, Route 1, Route 3 and Route 301 during this storm.
In addition to impairing Virginia’s roadways, snow, ice and downed trees caused serious service disruptions to Amtrak routes. Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern worked to get trains to the nearest available station while clearing more than 1,200 trees from tracks statewide.
This was an extreme weather event for Virginia and many locations of the Commonwealth bore the brunt of this storm. Some households lost power for more than a week, and more than 1.5 million cubic yards of debris have started being cleared from the remnants of Frida.
“I want to thank the thousands of VDOT employees and contractors along with the men and women of the Virginia State Police who worked around-the-clock to respond to this statewide weather event,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “We look forward to the final multi-agency after-action review and comprehensive timeline to improve future coordinated response efforts.”
“While the after-action review is underway, we are not waiting to implement changes ahead of our next storm, such as improving our messaging to travelers using VDOT’s network of changeable message boards,” said VDOT Commissioner Stephen Brich. “The agency’s top priority is and will remain the safety of the traveling public, and our teams are committed to learning from this, then incorporating those lessons into our standard operating procedures.”
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