RICHMOND, Va. (WJHL) — The Virginia Department of Transportation failed to apply lessons learned from a 2018 snow incident that left travelers stranded for hours on Interstate 81 near Bristol, according to a report by the state inspector general’s office.

The report examined the shortcomings of VDOT and other state agencies during an early January 2022 snowstorm that caused a major traffic backup on Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg.

After the 2018 incident, VDOT identified several lessons learned and action items, including:

  • Establishing an Incident Command System coordinated by the VDOT Maintenance Division.
  • Adding additional snow removal equipment to areas of incline and increasing resource staging near known problem areas.
  • Strengthening interagency communications.
  • Developing proactive communication strategies, including collaboration with neighboring states.
  • Improving incident and queue detection and monitoring to compensate for traffic camera limitations.
  • Improving crossover between interstate lanes to allow access for heavy equipment.
  • Conducting wellness checks on motorists in the backup with the assistance of local EMS.
2018 snow-induced traffic backup on Interstate 81 in Bristol. (Photo: WJHL)

According to the report, VDOT’s chief engineer issued a memo with lessons learned and action items from the incident, including:

  • Establishing protocols for a more assertive “do not travel message” to the public.
  • Placing an emphasis on situational awareness beyond the immediate tasks at hand.
  • Obtaining lessons learned from other state departments of transportation for severe winter events.
  • Ensuring effective communication through verification of events and staying current on changing conditions.
  • Ensuring a protocol is in place to communicate potential worse-case scenarios early and assertively to the public, motorists and affected governments through multiple media sources.

However, the report states that many of the identified action items were not performed by VDOT during the I-95 incident earlier this year.

It also lists several other findings and recommendations concerning the response by VDOT, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and the Virginia State Police during the I-95 backup.

The review recommends that all three agencies analyze what they learned from both the I-81 and I-95 incidents and incorporate that into their policies and procedures.