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After snowstorm, hundreds are stranded on I-95, including Virginia Senator Tim Kaine

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

OK. Our next guest has just finished a heck of a road trip on I-95 in Virginia where, like hundreds of others, he has been stuck for hours and hours and hours - this because of a snowstorm that just slammed us here in the mid-Atlantic, a truck that jackknifed and traffic screeched to a standstill. And our guest is a guy who you would imagine has some pull with transportation officials and state troopers there in Virginia. He is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. Senator, welcome. And oh, my God, how many hours were you in your car?

TIM KAINE: Mary Louise, I was in the car for 26 hours and 45 minutes, and this is a two-hour trip. I left at 1 o'clock Monday to come up for a voting rights meeting that was last night at 8 o'clock, and I felt like, you know, there was snow, but that would give me enough time to get here. But I got bogged down a number of times where, you know, the ice and the snow was so bad and the cars were just stopped for five or six hours at a time. And I just arrived at the office at about 3:45. So it was a miserable experience. And I reflected upon - once I did a bike ride with Virginia police officers. They had to arrive the day before Memorial Day from the Richmond capital to the police memorial in D.C. So it's basically the same ride up Route 1. And I did it with them, and it took 13 hours to do the bike ride. And that was with all the picnicking along the way. So to have done it on a bike in 13 hours and 27 hours in a car...

KELLY: In a car, yeah.

KAINE: There's a lesson there somewhere.

KELLY: Well, as you said, you're safely at the Capitol now. Congratulations. But I was looking at the pictures from last night. You spent last night in the car.

KAINE: Yeah.

KELLY: I was cold just looking at these pictures. How'd you get through the night?

KAINE: It was pretty grim. It was a cold night. I was stuck on the interstate between two exits, Ladysmith and Thornburg, where there was big backups. And so I was just surrounded by cars and trucks that were stopped just like I was. Some had slid off the road. Some folks were running out of gas. And so, you know, it's - and it's pretty easy to run out of gas if you're running your heater for six or seven hours.

KELLY: Yeah.

KAINE: You know, you're running your engine to heat your car. The temperatures were, like, 11 or 12 degrees. So what I did was I would run the engine and - with the heater on full blast for 10 minutes to warm up the car. Then I would turn the engine off and last until I had to - you know, it was too cold, then I had to turn it back on. And I could usually, with 10 minutes of engine, get about an hour of chilling in the car till I had to turn the engine back on. But that conserved gas because I did need to get gas at Fredericksburg. I couldn't have done it without getting some gas on the way.

KELLY: So you were able to stop and then get back on, and then it would stop and start. So I - you know, we've all been stuck in bad weather. I am beyond sympathetic.

KAINE: Yeah.

KELLY: But I have a couple of questions about how this happened and was quite this bad. One, others who were stranded have been furious at your governor, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, yelling at him on Twitter, asking, among other things, why was the National Guard not deployed? Why was the National Guard not deployed?

KAINE: I don't know. I know Ralph very well, and he's an extremely conscientious guy. And I'm sure that they talked through the various options, and they made the decision they made. I saw emergency vehicles. I saw ambulances. I saw a plow. I saw plows.

KELLY: But you're a senator from the state of Virginia. Did you make some calls from there?

KAINE: We did call - I mean, we called the VDOT to get information. The first thing we wanted to know was...

KELLY: The transportation department.

KAINE: Virginia Department of Transportation - the main thing we wanted to know is on our own social media, we want to put out, here's the emergency number to call if you're having trouble. I had enough gas in the tank, and I had a warm coat, but some didn't. And some were in cars packed with kids. Some had seniors, and some had pets. Some might have had medical issues. Some had slid off the road or their cars had run out of gas.

KELLY: Yeah.

KAINE: And so we wanted to put out to the - you know, the world, if you really need help, here's where to go to get it. And so we called VDOT to ask about that. And I also had conversations with the transportation secretary of Virginia who works for Governor Northam. Shannon Valentine is an old friend. She reached out as soon as she heard that I was stuck on the road, and we talked through - I wanted to find out when would sections of 95 likely reopen.

KELLY: Well, I was going to ask, in the minute or so we have left, what is the infrastructure implication here of how people, including a U.S. senator, can be stranded for more than 24 hours on a big highway not far from the capital of the richest, most powerful country in the world?

KAINE: Well, I think there is a message there, and that's one of the reasons I was so proud to support the infrastructure bill. I mean, as a nation, we haven't invested in infrastructure in a major way. And you can see it in all kinds of - you know, not just roads, but you can see it everywhere. And this corridor is going to be a corridor that's getting significant investment through the infrastructure bill, and it needs to. I-95 is like the, you know, kind of the spine that runs up the East Coast of the United States, and it's heavily traveled.

KELLY: Well, and it's not fun to drive on the best of days.

KAINE: Yeah, absolutely right. On the best of days, it's packed. This was the worst of days - black ice covering it all last night. I mean, it was miserable.

KELLY: Well, Senator Kaine, we appreciate your taking the time. I'm glad you're there safe, and I hope you have a nap in your near future.

KAINE: I am going to get a nap as soon as I can. Thank you.

KELLY: Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "DREAMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.