VDOT Commissioner Faults Ice Storm Response
David Ekern, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation, summed up the department's response to the Feb. 12 ice storm this way: "When you look at the critical 45 minutes, we got overwhelmed."
He was talking about the time between 3 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. when the Springfield Interchange's roadways and bridges began to freeze -- and so did VDOT.
-- The road treatment equipment wasn't where it needed to be when weather conditions began to deteriorate rapidly.
-- VDOT's Traffic Management Center in Northern Virginia failed to activate the message boards to warn drivers that the interchange had become impassable.
-- The 511 phone information system was not engaged. VDOT's Web site was not used to alert people who had not yet left home or work.
-- The Traffic Management Center did not contact the emergency operations center in Richmond or other regional traffic management centers to coordinate public information to divert motorists from the area.
Ekern also announced VDOT plans to hold a public meeting about the incident and response. It's scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Waterford reception center in Springfield.
Ekern made his comments during a telephone press conference this afternoon after delivering the report to the Commonwealth Transportation Board in Richmond. (Here's a link to the commissioner's presentation to the board.)
Like any transportation department, VDOT tries to match its response to the actual weather conditions. Responding to a weather emergency can cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Failing to respond also can be extremely costly. And in this case, it was.
The weather forecast led VDOT to believe that the icing would be to the north of Springfield. But, "I do not blame weather forecasting as the reason for this event," Ekern said.
Neither do the many commuters I heard from in the days following the ice storm. They listened to the radio and knew the storm was coming, they said. That's why they left work early, many of them trying to reach their neighborhoods in time to vote in the presidential primary. The frozen roads locked them in the Springfield interchange for hours -- some said seven hours or more.
It "really locked up Northern Virginia," Ekern said. "We sat down and said, that's an unacceptable event."
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