Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., returned to the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday night as the Senate’s unquestioned road warrior.
Kaine posted a photograph on Facebook of his car outside the Capitol with the caption: “Ok after 27 hours on the road from Richmond to DC, very happy to be back in the Capitol and working on voting rights legislation this afternoon.”
Normally a two-hour trip from his home in North Richmond, the journey began on Monday at 1 p.m. and ended just before 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, thanks to a freak snowstorm that turned part of Interstate 95 into an icy, 50-mile-long parking lot.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Kaine told WTOP radio in Washington in an interview after Hour 20. “I’m clearly going to set my own personal best record for slowest trip between Richmond and D.C.”
The two-term senator wasn’t available for interviews after returning to Washington, but his nationally watched adventure is sure to draw questions when he hosts his regular media availability session on Wednesday.
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Kaine told WTOP that he did two things right: He left Richmond with plenty of gas in the tank and a heavy coat in the car.
He needed both, with temperatures dropping into the low teens overnight, as he waited for eight to nine hours at a standstill between the Ladysmith exit on I-95 in Caroline County and the Thornburg exit in Spotsylvania County.
“It was really, really cold last night,” he said, referring to Monday night.
Kaine said he was able to stop in Fredericksburg to get gas early Tuesday morning, but he immediately got back onto the interstate because he was supposed to preside in the Senate later that morning.
“The problem is, a lot of people, when you’re stuck that long between, you know 5 miles from an interchange, and the traffic isn’t moving, folks are running out of gas,” he told the radio station.
Kaine says he makes the trip twice a week between his home and the Capitol. He left Richmond on Monday with what he thought was plenty of time to make a meeting scheduled at 8 p.m. on legislation to protect voting rights, one of his top political priorities, which has been blocked by a partisan divide and Senate rules on ending a filibuster.
He first ran into trouble near Doswell, the exit for Kings Dominion amusement park and the Virginia State Fair. The long wait between Ladysmith and Thornburg wasn’t without its light moments, as people bound together in misery bonded together — families with children returning from holiday travel, elderly travelers, one woman who walked her dog along the highway.
A family from Connecticut “returning in a packed car from Florida walked by in the middle of the night handing out oranges as we were stopped for hours on I-95,” Kaine tweeted on Tuesday morning at Hour 20, with a picture of an orange on his dashboard. “Bless them!”
His first tweet, an hour earlier, showed his car hemmed between tractor-trailers on three sides in Stafford County. The cellphone photo illustrated the challenge for the Virginia Department of Transportation and others trying to bring relief to stranded motorists.
“We’re so packed on the interstate that it’s really hard to get an emergency vehicle and to get a car that’s disabled,” he told WTOP. “And so then that becomes a block for others.”
Kaine, who previously served as Virginia’s 70th governor from 2006 to 2010, declined to criticize Gov. Ralph Northam for not calling up the Virginia National Guard. (A spokesman for the Guard said it does not have the same capabilities as the transportation department to move cars and trucks out of the way.)
“I don’t like to second-guess governors on decisions like that,” he said.
Kaine also declined to accept help, offered directly by Northam and Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine.
“‘I just want to be treated like everybody else,’” he told the governor.
Indeed, it was an “everyman” situation for a former mayor who has remained close to his community and political roots in Richmond.
“I’m just doing what every traveler is doing,” he told WTOP. “I’m in my car by myself, driving myself.”
Throughout, Kaine tried to put the ordeal in perspective.
“This has been a miserable experience, but at some point I kind of made the switch from a miserable travel experience to kind of a survival project,” he said.
Later, after almost 24 hours on the road, Kaine tweeted that he was “frustrated, but not in serious trouble.”
But, he added, “If you are in trouble on Virginia roads today, call @VaDOT at 1-800-FOR-ROAD.”
It’s a number Kaine is not likely to forget.