I-95 in Connecticut will close for days after fiery crash damages bridge, governor says

May 2, 2024, 8:05 AM | Updated: 4:08 pm

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The major traffic artery linking New England with New York will be closed in Connecticut for days after a tanker fire damaged a bridge over Interstate 95, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday.

The tanker truck filled with gasoline burst into flames in a three-vehicle crash Thursday on I-95 in southwest Connecticut, closing the East Coast’s main north-south highway and causing major traffic jams. While Lamont said there were no serious injuries in the 5:30 a.m. accident in Norwalk, the crash caused damage to the bridge above it.

“The heat from the burning fuel compromised some of the bridge, so that bridge is going to have to come down and that demolition is going to start first thing tomorrow morning,” Lamont said at a briefing Thursday evening in Hartford.

He said the hope is to reopen the interstate by Monday morning.

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said his city’s schools will be closed on Friday. It’s unclear whether they’ll reopen Monday. He urged local employers to consider allowing employees to work from home on Friday, if possible, or use the MetroNorth commuter rail. Additional trains are being added to the rail line, officials said.

While the bridge was less than 10 years old, “the damage was pretty severe due to the amount of gasoline that was in the tanker ignited directly underneath the bridge structure,” Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto said. “The steel did begin to overheat and warp.”

The tanker had been carrying a load of about 8,500 gallons (about 32,000 liters) when it crashed beneath the Fairfield Avenue bridge, officials said. The overpass did not appear in danger of collapsing, said Scott Hill, chief engineer for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Eucalitto said it’s unsafe to allow any traffic to pass underneath the bridge in either direction, so the entire bridge, which has beams that cross both spans of highway, has to be removed.

Large equipment was being brought to Connecticut Thursday evening to complete the demolition, which is expected to begin around 3 a.m. on Friday. Lamont said the work could take 24 hours or longer to complete. After that, the roadway may need to be repaved before it can reopen.

It will likely take about a year to replace the bridge, a major artery for the city of more than 91,000 people. Lamont said he is hoping to receive federal reimbursement to cover the cost.

“I’m glad everyone is OK,” Lisa Brinton, who lives south of I-95, told Hearst Connecticut Media. “My concern is the after effect. Norwalk is divided in half by 95 and I drive over Fairfield Avenue bridge everyday.”

The cause of the crash remains under police investigation and no charges have been filed.

About 160,000 vehicles travel that portion of I-95 in both directions daily, Eucalitto said.

Traffic was backed up for dozens of miles during the morning rush hour, and lengthy delays remained in the area into Thursday evening and were expected through the weekend. Slow-moving detours were set up, taking traffic off the highway and around the accident scene. The crash left other highways and secondary roads in gridlock. The major alternate route in the area, the Merritt Parkway, cannot be used by trucks because the underpasses on that highway are too low.

Text alerts were sent to residents of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, and trucking companies who use the section of I-95 were notified to find alternative routes and means of travel, he said. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg also was notified.

“I know what an incredible inconvenience this is for people and all I can ask you to do is stay away from that area as best you can,” Lamont said during an earlier briefing in Hartford. “The traffic jams are horrendous.”

Crews offloaded about 4,000 gallons (about 15,142 liters) of gasoline that was unburnt and remained on the tanker. Utility crews were also working to replace downed wires.

Environmental crews worked to clean up gasoline and firefighting foam. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said the runoff was contained to a retention pond and did not make it into the Norwalk River or the city’s harbor.

The accident was reminiscent of last year’s deadly accident in Philadelphia along I-95 when a tractor-trailer carrying gasoline lost control and caught fire, destroying a section of the highway.

The crash also came just over a year after a similar wreck on I-95 in Connecticut that forced the closure of the highway.

In April 2023, another fuel truck caught fire after colliding with a stopped car on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge between New London and Groton. The fuel truck driver was killed. The crash shut down the southbound side of the bridge for hours, while the northbound side was closed briefly. The driver of the car was recently charged with negligent homicide.


Associated Press writer Dave Collins contributed to this report

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I-95 in Connecticut will close for days after fiery crash damages bridge, governor says