Traffic Nightmare On Conn. Highway

Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Jamie Dixon of JPMorgan Chase, John J. Mack of Morgan Stanley
A fiery tanker truck crash that melted a bridge and closed a mile-long stretch of Interstate 95, the major interstate highway between New York and Boston, and officials say it is likely the southbound lanes will remain closed for weeks.

Northbound lanes may be able to reopen as soon as Saturday morning, said Gov. John G. Rowland.

The best case scenario would be that the northbound side, structurally, is capable of handling traffic, that we can open it tomorrow morning, we could begin to move traffic at least in one direction," he said Friday.

The truck carrying 12,000 gallons of home heating oil collided with a car Thursday night on Interstate 95 in Bridgeport, Conn., sparking a huge fire that severely damaged both sides of the overpass where the accident happened. The truck driver and a firefighter were slightly injured.

"It looks like an earthquake took place on 95," Rowland said.

Witnesses said they heard explosions and saw a gigantic fireball shoot into the sky. Traffic was backed up for miles in both directions on the stretch of highway that handles nearly 120,000 vehicles a day.

"This is a total disaster as far as traffic's concerned," said Bridgeport Mayor John Fabrizi.

"It's going to be a pain in the neck," agreed Rowland.

The fire was so hot it damaged the steel support beams that carry the highway over an avenue, authorities said.

"The southbound lane of the highway has sagged 3-4 feet," said Bridgeport Fire Chief Michael Maglione.

"At the height of the heat, the actual bridge almost touched the ground, it went down so far, and then as the firefighters poured water and foam on the fire, it contracted, and it left that buckling effect," Rowland told reporters Friday morning.

The truck's driver was treated at a hospital and released, and a firefighter who was overcome by fumes was hospitalized for observation.

For the short period, Rowland said, the avenue beneath I-95 will just be closed off to get the interstate open again.

"The plan frankly is to just literally cut the sections out, remove those sections, and rather than try to rebuild a bridge area, it looks like we'll try to build up the bottom and make it an actual road," he said.

State officials urged motorists, especially tractor-trailer drivers, to avoid I-95 and the Bridgeport area until the highway is fixed.

Southbound traffic was being diverted to Route 25 and the Merritt Parkway, a historic highway that is closed to commercial truck traffic. Several tractor-trailers tried to use the Merritt but were stopped by police.

Trucks southbound on I-95 were sent to Route 8 and Interstate 84. But a tractor-trailer jackknifed on that the northbound side of Route 8 Friday morning, adding to the traffic nightmare.

Northbound cars and trucks were being rerouted through the streets of Bridgeport and Fairfield and back onto Interstate 95.

Fairfield Police Chief Joseph Sambrook said traffic was gridlocked in that town.

"It's horrible, horrible," he said.

The truck driver, Gilbert Robinson, 33, of Naugatuck, was treated at Bridgeport Hospital and released. He declined to comment when reached by telephone Friday morning. Robinson was driving a 2000 Mack owned by Island Transport of Connecticut and Long Island, N.Y.

State police identified the driver of the car as Sarah Waddle of Derby.

Robinson was driving south on I-95 when his truck was forced into the concrete barrier and onto its side at about 8 p.m., police said. It skidded down the highway about 100 yards, knocking down two light poles. Accident investigators said they believe sparks from the poles lit the fuel.

Maglione said cars moving past the accident scene created a mist of heating oil in the air, which was probably what caused the fire. Home furnaces have a device to create such a spray, he said.

"When you put this type of a fuel in a mist form if it finds a point of ignition it will light," he said.