A gasoline tanker truck crashed and exploded into flames early Sunday, causing a 170-ft stretch of a major Bay Area freeway interchange to warp and collapse on the freeway below, authorities said.
The accident forced the closure of two damaged sections of the heavily traveled maze east of the Bay Bridge, which carries 270,000 vehicles to and from San Francisco each day. Repairs are expected to disrupt traffic for weeks, maybe even months, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"It won't be a matter of days," said California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) spokesman Bob Haus. "It will be significant."
A tanker truck carrying 8,600 gal of gasoline overturned at 3:41 a.m., Sunday, and burst into flames on the 50-ft-high ramp connecting westbound I-80 to southbound I-880, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Within minutes, the ramp above it--connecting eastbound I-80 to eastbound I-580--collapsed in the 3,000? cauldron, according to the newspaper.
The overpass was a critical component of the MacArthur Maze, one of the Bay Area's busiest highway interchanges. The network of connector ramps merges the East Bay's three major highways: Interstate's 80, 580 and 880.
The detached highway is a three-lane artery that serves nearly 45,000 vehicles each day, and the damaged two-lane highway below it was used by 35,000 vehicles, said Caltrans Director Will Kempton. Not since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 has any other incident caused such major damage to a Bay Area freeway, the Chronicle reported.
No one was killed in the accident; however, the driver of the truck suffered burns to his face, neck and hands.
The tanker was on its way from a refinery in Benicia to a gas station on Hegenberger Road in Oakland. California Highway Patrol spokesman Trent Cross said the driver of the tanker, James Mosqueda, 51, was traveling too fast in a 50 mph zone when his truck overturned.
Engineers estimated that the flames reached close to 3,000?, which was hot enough to melt the green steel frame and bolts of the I-580 overpass, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
John Goodwin, spokesman for the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the maze is one of the worst spots for traffic in the Bay Area. He anticipates the impact of Sunday's fire will extend well beyond the East Bay.
"This really strikes at the very center of the Bay Area freeway network," he said.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an emergency declaration late Sunday to help expedite repairs by streamlining contracting procedures and proving swift funding.
"Undoubtedly," he said, "today's incident will cause severe difficulties for Bay Area commuters."
The Monday morning commute appeared to be moving smoothly despite the closure of the two major East Bay routes, according to the Chronicle.
Overall, officials said, the flow this morning does not seem too different from a typical Monday morning commute, and even appears lighter than usual in some places. However, it remained heavy on westbound I-80 approaching the maze and Bay Bridge, and throughout the Peninsula, the newspaper reported.
Caltrans officials said that construction on the I-580 ramp, which collapsed, is expected to take at least a month. They indicated that the I-880 roadway, which most likely will not have to be completely rebuilt, could reopen sooner if deemed safe.