Inside Seven
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Paramount Blvd. bridge still standing after tanker fire.  Caltrans maintenance and engineering staff inspect the bridge's structural integrity.

Repairs Begin on Pomona Freeway (SR-60) Paramount Boulevard Bridge
by  Patrick Chandler
Issue Date: 03/2012

Montebello’s connection may have been severed but Caltrans has the remedy.

Caltrans began construction on the new Paramount Boulevard bridge on Friday, March 2 in Montebello. The bridge had to be demolished after it was damaged by a fuel tanker truck fire December 14, 2011 – an event that local media called “the real Carmageddon.”

While the fuel tanker truck was traveling on the eastbound Pomona Freeway (SR-60) around noon on Wednesday, December 14, it became engulfed in flames and came to rest just under the Paramount Boulevard bridge. Fortunately the driver and a passenger were able to leave the truck and were not injured. Unfortunately, flames from the two burning fuel tanks caused the concrete under the bridge and the pavement on the freeway to spall (or become brittle), rendering the bridge useless and unsafe for motorists.

The fire required the immediate closure of east- and westbound SR-60 between the Long Beach Freeway (I-710) and the San Gabriel River Freeway (I-605), which Caltrans and the CHP quickly facilitated.

Once firefighters extinguished the flames and the bridge cooled, a hazardous materials contractor removed the captured fuel and the charred concrete so that Caltrans maintenance crews could remove a damaged freeway sign and bridge fencing. Engineers inspected damaged sections of the bridge and took core samples.

The best solution for the bridge was to demolish the entire structure and build a new one.

The existing Paramount Boulevard bridge was 44 years-old and was built to the standards of the time. Even though the westbound side of the bridge was not severely damaged, it too had to be demolished.

“Engineers questioned how safe the bridge would be if the structure was half new and half old,” said Supervising Bridge Engineer Ching Chao. “There were many technical questions about the bridge’s functional and seismic performance.”

Flatiron Construction was hired (as part of the emergency contract) to demolish the bridge. The demolition subcontractor, Penhall, is the same company that demolished the Mulholland Boulevard bridge above the San Diego Freeway (I-405) in July 2011.

As demolition crews began to tear down the bridge, several copper and fiber optic phone lines were found under the sidewalk on the southbound. The copper lines were encased in asbestos.

The demolition halted, the Air Quality Management District issued a permit and a hazardous materials contractor removed the asbestos. The demolition continued.

After the section above eastbound SR-60 was removed, crews fastened copper and fiber optic lines to a 60 foot-long steel I-beam over the freeway to prevent any disruption of service to residents and businesses connected to the lines.

With the I-beam in place, crews cleared westbound SR-60 and opened all lanes at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, December 17. Crews repaired the fire damaged slabs of pavement on eastbound SR-60 and opened all lanes at 3:15 p.m.

“In just three days, crews had the freeway open to the public,” said District 7 Director Michael Miles. “Caltrans employees should be proud of their response to this emergency incident.”

Caltrans maintenance crews were instrumental in providing the initial emergency traffic control, removing fire damaged overhead signs, coordinating with other public safety and public works agencies, and utilizing the closure to repair hazardous broken slabs, delineation, remove debris in the center median, clear drains, and remove vegetation.

Engineers from Construction, Structures, Design, Bridge Maintenance, Operations and several other divisions worked night and day to ensure that the bridge demolition and detours were successful.

The new bridge will:

  • Be widened to 128-feet, 32-feet wider than the old 96-foot structure;
  • Add a northbound lane (east side) with an 8-foot shoulder. There were no shoulders on the original bridge;
  • Have a 14-foot center median (current median is 12 feet), and 6-foot sidewalks (current sidewalks are 5 feet).

The effort to reconnect the community of Montebello is on a fast track,” said Acting Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “We expedited the environmental review and design phase and rapidly secured federal funding to build a replacement bridge as quickly as possible.”

After the fire, state and federal officials--including Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., U.S. Representatives Grace Napolitano, Linda Sanchez, and Judy Chu, and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood--acted quickly to release $40 million in Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief funds for this reconstruction project to cover initial clean-up, demolition and construction

“We will continue to partner with Montebello and surrounding communities as we work to restore access for emergency, commercial and commuter services in Montebello and nearby communities,” said Caltrans District 7 Director Michael Miles.

The construction has been placed on an expedited schedule to complete the work by June 2012.  The cause of the accident is under investigation by the CHP.

Contractor demolishing the bridge. Contractor demolishing the bridge. Westbound SR-60 opening at 11:15 a.m. on Dec. 17, 2011. Eastbound SR-60 opening at 3:15 p.m. on Dec. 17.