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Freeways closed for hours where truck blew up

on October 22, 2008


OCT. 22 – Lanes of the I-880 South and the I-980 West remain closed today, after a fiery crash early this morning involving a gas tanker truck and a passenger car. Although the flames have been doused, concerns of hazardous material contamination remain, forcing Oakland commuters to make alternate travel plans.

“The Oakland 880 corridor is a big one here,” said Bob Haus, spokesman for Caltrans. “It provides access to the port of Oakland and the city and the thoroughfare.”

As rush-hour traffic was getting underway, Caltrans contractors were making progress on the repair work of the damaged section of the freeway. Haus said the agency was hoping to have the freeway open sometime between 9 p.m. and midnight, well before the morning commute.

For North Oakland motorists, this should be a good thing. Southbound lanes of Interstate 980 through downtown Oakland have been closed all day. Once those open, Haus said, that should provide some relief. Interstate 580 also will remain open to diverted traffic, if roadways still aren’t open. And BART will be monitoring ridership throughout the day and increasing trains whenever possible, said BART spokesman Linton Johnson, including at the MacArthur and Rockridge stations.

The incident could seem like déjà vu all over again for Oakland commuters, after a gas tanker crash destroyed portions of the MacArthur Maze last year.

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“Unlike the MacArthur maze, this was not an elevated structure,” said Haus. “The damage is not comparable, but the sense of urgency is the same.”

At 6:16 a.m., the California Highway Patrol was alerted to a multi-vehicle accident near 16th Avenue in Oakland, involving an Acura sedan and a truck carrying an estimated 8,600 gallons of gasoline. According to CHP officials, the Acura collided with the truck, causing it to explode and burst into flames. The collision also sent the Acura careening into the freeway’s center divide. No one was seriously injured in the accident.

Roads closures will continue indefinitely until the damage is entirely cleared. That process is likely to be a lengthy one, as hazardous material cleanup must be completed before tow-trucks can remove the wreckage and Caltrans can more thoroughly inspect the damage. 

By 1:30 in the afternoon, small pools of water, foam and diluted gasoline remained on the roadway. The burnt hull of the tanker was still on its side, laying on a bed of crumbled concrete and toxic liquid.  The strong smell of gasoline and burnt rubber still lingered in the air as far as a block away. Some workers who had been exposed to the fumes complained of minor throat irritation and nausea.

PG&E had two trucks on scene and they were in the process of replacing one pole that had been burned during the fire. Absorbent material and dykes remained on the ground around storm drains, and crews from NRC Environmental Services pumped the contaminated liquid into 55-gallon-drums to be hauled away. A boat from NRC was in the marina at 16th Avenue and Embarcadero monitoring the drain that led directly from the accident scene.

Officials on the scene said their primary concern was the potential spill of hazardous materials via a nearby drain on the freeway to the bay. OFD’s Hazardous Materials team used an inflatable plug to close the drain and guard against possible contamination. The Coast Guard also flew helicopters over the bay to check for visible petroleum sheen. According to Captain Mike Fahey of OFD, no sheen was detected.

The incident mobilized a cavalcade of agencies to the scene. The California Department of Fish and Game and Coast Guard arrived to assess environmental damage. Granite Construction teams were called off a nearby project to remain on standby. Red Cross workers were providing food to the crews on scene.

Still, UC Berkeley transportation professor Michael Cassidy said these types of cleanup projects take time. “If there’s a fire, if there’s a toxic spill – there’s not much you can do but clean it up,” said Cassidy, who specializes in civic and environmental engineering. “It’ll take a while.”

photos by LINNEA EDMEIER and HENRY JONES||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

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