The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Virginia Drivers Stranded on I-95

Jan 17, 2022

A few hours into the snowstorm on Monday, January 3, a semi truck jackknifed on Interstate 95 in Virginia between Washington, D.C. and Richmond. Accidents cascaded quickly until traffic was jammed for more than 40 miles each way, while a foot of snow fell by early afternoon. But only then did the nightmare begin.

People waited hours—all day and then all night—without hearing anything from authorities. Not updates, not helpful tips, nothing. No one came to check up on them or clear the way. Some drivers with extra water or food gave it out to others stuck near them. But everyone was using up their gas trying to stay warm to sleep or charge their phones. Meanwhile, more drivers kept entering the highway at both ends of the jam. People in their 90s were stuck in the freezing weather, people with babies were stuck, people with dogs were stuck. Even a senator was stuck! Only the next morning did the state transportation department declare the highway closed—the 600 million dollars in freight that usually rolls along the highway each day wasn’t going anywhere anyway. But it took another 12 hours before the final vehicles were dug out and helped to drive away, Tuesday evening.

It was outrageous. The state had no plan. It did not communicate.

Turns out the Virginia transportation department has 500 fewer workers for snow removal this season: 2,500 state and contractor workers now, versus 3,000 state snow removal workers in 2010. And how many are not available because of Covid? Overall, the department has eliminated nearly half its workers since the 1990s: from 14,000 then to only 7,500 now. It’s the lowest level since 1965. And the contractors hire less, to cut costs and increase their profit margins. Virginia has privatized interstate operations and maintenance over 25 years, with a dizzying haze of separate contracts in nine different state regions. Over 200 million dollars was budgeted for snow removal this season, nearly every dollar channeled to private profiteers.

Profits roll on … but traffic is frozen.