A Tanker Fire and Caltrans
On Saturday, July 13 at 10:30 a.m. a gas tanker truck hauling 8,500 gallons collided with a column inside of the northbound Glendale Freeway (SR-2) connector tunnel to northbound Golden State Freeway (I-5) in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles, behind the Silver Lake Maintenance Yard on Riverside Drive.
A black and white smoke cloud could be seen for miles. Duty pages from the Traffic Management Center start to hit the cell phones of hundreds of District 7 employees about a tanker fire in the connector tunnel between northbound SR-2 and northbound I-5, the Traffic Management Team is “rolling,” and so is the media.
Firefighters are already on scene battling intense flames, the CHP and Caltrans have shut down the Golden State Freeway (I-5) near the Glendale Freeway (SR-2), and traffic is starting coagulate like a clogged artery.
The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) was able to extinguish the flames and ensure that the fuel that ran down storm drains did not ignite in the nearby Los Angeles River. Several thousands of gallons of gas either burned or ran down the drains inside of the connector creating a hazardous materials (hazmat) situation.
Once the fire department deemed the fire extinguished at 4:30 p.m., and the concrete had cooled it was easy to see that the fire caused extensive damage to the structure. At this point, Caltrans engineers and maintenance crews could begin assessing the damage and begin to develop a solution to re-open all lanes of I-5 above the connector. Obviously, every Caltrans employee on scene understood the urgency to safely re-open I-5, but many of them were well aware they have experience and expertise to overcome this challenge.
“The pressure is always on whenever we close a highway or freeway down during wild fire, floods, tanker fire, rock slide, etc.,” said I-5 Principal Engineer John Yang, who was the Caltrans incident commander. “As the clock ticks and the emergency responders come together, we always come through. Failure never seems to be an option; we always prevail.”
The extreme heat from the flames severely damaged the concrete walls and ceiling, and the pavement. In many places the concrete was so brittle it could be removed by hand. Steel rebar was exposed and the outrigger support beams on the north side of the connector appeared to have hit with a sledge hammer. All that was left of the tanker was the chasis, tractor, and steel belts for tires.
An environmental contractor was hired to remove the tanker’s carcass, damaged pavement and concrete, charred paint, and other hazardous debris were removed from the connector.
The CHP, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, California Fish and Wildlife, LAFD, LA County FD Hazmat, US Environmental Protection Agency, Los Police Department, and other agencies remained on scene well past midnight.
During the following days, Rasmussen Inc., under the direction of Maintenance constructed a steel and wood support system to support the lanes on I-5 above the tunnel. All lanes were opened by Tuesday, July 16 before the early morning commute.
The following days Caltrans Hazardous Materials Office worked closely with the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Hazmat Unit, Los Angeles Watershed Department, and a hazmat contractor to remove sediment that had elements of gasoline from the tanker fire from over a thousand feet of subterranean drains.
In the following months, Maintenance began to the process to secure a contractor and funding to repair the tunnel. The Materials Engineering and Test Services division began several tests to determine the extent of damage to the structure and concrete, and what solutions would be implemented to repair the structure.
The solutions to repair the tunnel included hydrodemolition, shotcrete, epoxy injections, carbon fiber wrapping, repaving, upgrading the connector’s lighting, metal beam guardrail, and add anti-graffiti coated paint. The result is a brighter tunnel for motorists safety.
On November 6, 2013, Rasmussen Inc., the contractor, began working around the clock to repair the tunnel.
During the repair project Structural Maintenance Engineer Tony Brake had the opportunity to work closely with Thomas Curwen, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Curwen wrote several stories about the technical challenges and aspects of the project. In the past, Curwen has spent hours with project staff to ensure that the public understands the details and importance of the projects.
On January 10, at 10:30 a.m. the northbound SR-2 to northbound I-5 connector was opened after a brief event with District 7 Director Carrie Bowen, Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, Los Angeles City Council Members Tom LaBonge, Gil Cedillo, and Mitch O’Farrell.
Employees involved in the incident and repair project: