NATIONAL NEWS

Traffic snarled as workers begin removing I-95 overpass scorched in Connecticut fuel truck inferno

May 3, 2024, 7:20 AM | Updated: May 4, 2024, 5:56 am

Work crews began demolishing a bridge damaged in a fiery crash that kept Interstate 95 in Connecticut closed for a second day Friday, as motorists’ nerves continued to fray in hours of traffic jams on and around the main artery linking New England and New York.

“It’s crazy,” said Marco Ortiz, a tattoo artist at Javier Eastman Tattoo Studios in Norwalk on Connecticut Avenue, one of the detours jammed bumper-to-bumper. “I’ve seen people beeping, trying to cut other people off, making faces, hand gestures. It’s not good. You’ve got to be patient. What else can we do? It was a really bad accident.”

The highway remained shut down in both directions after Thursday morning’s three-vehicle wreck, in which a gasoline tanker burst into flames that engulfed the Fairfield Avenue overpass above I-95 in Norwalk and damaged the structure.

Gov. Ned Lamont said plans to reopen all six lanes before rush hour Monday morning appeared to be on track.

“And here we are more than 24 hours later, that bridge is going to be down very soon,” Lamont said at a news conference in Norwalk on Friday. “The shears are coming in to lift off the final piece of this. Get the asphalt back in place. And hopefully … we get I-95 going in both directions on Monday.”

About 160,000 vehicles travel that section of I-95 in both directions daily, officials said. Detours on local roads added up to an hour or more to trips through the area for some motorists, while others sought alternate routes far from the scene.

John Blair, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said the trucking industry group has been working with state police and the DOT to get the word out to truckers across the Northeast about safe alternate routes, which include I-84.

He said there were problems over the past 24 hours with tractor-trailer drivers who don’t know Connecticut well striking low bridges or taking down power lines on local roads as they try to drive around the closure. State police said they were aware of only one incident where a commercial vehicle struck a bridge overpass in New Canaan on the Merritt Parkway, which bans tractor trailers because of low bridge heights.

Blair said his group has been trying to get long-haul truckers to avoid that part of state.

“We are pushing them up north as best as we can,” Blair said. “We’re trying to get to them before they get to Connecticut and have them avoid 95 completely.”

Workers started tearing down the bridge on Friday morning using excavators — one on each side of the highway — armed with jackhammers. Bucket loaders scooped up the debris that fell on the highway below and dumped it in containers that were hauled away by trucks.

The shears that Lamont spoke of are special heavy equipment that will be used to cut down the metal support components of the bridge beginning Saturday morning, officials said. That should take about 24 hours, and then the damaged parts of the highway will be repaired by milling and repaving, according to the state transportation commissioner, Garrett Eucalitto.

The crash happened at around 5:30 a.m. Thursday on the southbound side of the highway.

State police said a car was merging from the right lane when it struck the gas truck, which was carrying 8,500 gallons (32,000 liters) of fuel. The truck then hit a tractor trailer in another lane and caught fire. Nobody was seriously injured, and no charges have been filed.

On Friday afternoon, the state Department of Transportation said the travel time was nearly 90 minutes for the 16 miles (26 kilometers) from the New York border to Route 7 in Norwalk on I-95 north.

Jillian Mauro, a press aide with the Connecticut House Republicans, said she noticed many more tractor trailers during her commute from Danbury to Hartford along I-84, as well as fender benders with the stop-and-go traffic.

“There’s definitely a steady parade of trucks,” said Mauro, whose commute to the Capitol on Friday took 90 minutes instead of the usual hour.

The bridge removal and road repairs could cost about $20 million, said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat. He and other members of the state’s congressional delegation sent a letter asking the Federal Highway Administration for emergency funds to pay all the expenses. Lamont has declared a state of emergency, which could expedite the funding.

“Swift reopening of I-95 is extremely critical to flow the vehicular and truck traffic through New England,” the delegation wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The Merritt Parkway, which is open only to passenger vehicles, saw 13-mile-long delays Friday morning, the letter noted, while trucks and other commercial vehicle have been forced to take “much longer alternate routes.”

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

Thursday’s crash also came just over a year after a fatal wreck on I-95 in Connecticut in April 2023, when a fuel truck caught fire after colliding with a stopped car on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge between New London and Groton.

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Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.

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Traffic snarled as workers begin removing I-95 overpass scorched in Connecticut fuel truck inferno