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VDOT Releases Report on Ice Storm Response

These are some of the findings from the Virginia Department of Transportation review released this afternoon regarding its inadequate response to the ice storm that choked the Springfield Interchange for more than seven hours on the afternoon and evening of Feb. 12. I'll follow up on this with you later this afternoon.

Forecast Off
The Transportation Emergency Operations Center in Richmond (TEOC) and the NOVA district maintenance management and staff had several sources of weather data available prior to and during the event. The main source of forecast data was the National Weather Service (NWS). VDOT also has a contract with a private meteorological company to give more discrete weather forecasts than those provided by the NWS. This service did not forecast the ice storm for the Northern Virginia region.

Lack of Road Data
Supplemental data on pavement temperatures were available from Vaisala Corporation, a private service employed by VDOT to provide site-specific data and forecasts on atmospheric and road conditions including both air and pavement temperature. The data Vaisala uses for their forecasts comes from Road Weather Information System (RWIS) stations located around the state. Five RWIS stations in the NOVA District were operable during the event. No RWIS stations are located at the Springfield Interchange. Therefore, no site-specific atmospheric or road condition data were available at the Springfield Interchange.

VDOT's Response
At 1 p.m., a conference call was held to review information and update mobilization plans. NWS forecasts were discussed, and 12:00 PM RWIS data from Vaisala for the stations at U.S. 15 (Lucketts), the Dulles Toll Road, and I-66 at Rosslyn were reviewed. The forecasts from Vaisala indicated pavement temperatures would remain above 32 degrees. At this point, there were 54 trucks deployed along I-95, which the NOVA District felt was sufficient to take care of any hot spots in the area given the forecast.

Rapid Deterioration
3 to 3:30 p.m.: Weather and traffic conditions deteriorated rapidly at the Springfield Interchange.
3:15 p.m. (approximately): Multiple crashes were reported in the Springfield area. As crashes occurred, ramps and mainline lanes were effectively shut down. The exact times that ramps were closed due to accidents is unclear based upon available information. Based on VSP data, 50 crashes occurred in the area between 3 and 8 p.m.
By 4 p.m., it became clear that the mobilization plan and deployment were insufficient for the conditions.
4 to 4:30 p.m.: Four tanker trucks arrived at Springfield and began treating. Two were assigned to I-95, and two were assigned to I-495.

Traffic Management Center Response
Personnel in the Northern Virginia Traffic Management Center were quickly overwhelmed by the number of calls and requests for information. Personnel were focused on responding to media calls and communicating with safety officers and police.

No messages related to the Springfield Interchange were posted to permanent message boards in the Northern Virginia District. Operators did not attempt to activate the message boards along I-95 because of known communications issues with the devices. Only one board north of Fredericksburg was activated. 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.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 20, 2008; 1:17 PM ET
Categories:  Congestion  
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Next: VDOT Commissioner Faults Ice Storm Response

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