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Tanker explosion could bring days of freeway traffic gridlock

December 15, 2011 | 10:56 am


As workers Thursday began tearing down a portion of a bridge damaged by a spectacular tanker explosion, officials said the 60 Freeway could be closed for days.

The closure made for a miserable morning commute, with the 10, 210 and 5 freeways seeing extra traffic along with major surface streets flowing into downtown L.A. from the east.

The 60 Freeway is closed in both directions between the 605 and the 710 freeways through the weekend, said Officer Ed Jacobs, a public information officer at the California Highway Patrol.  

PHOTOS: Fiery crash on the 60 Freeway

Elijah Quesada, 25, left his Hacienda Heights home earlier than usual to make the 30-minute commute to Vernon.  Using GPS and "knowledge of the streets," Quesada said it only took him 45 minutes to get to work after leaving home at 6 a.m.

The X-ray technician expressed patience even after experiencing some delays.

"We live in L.A.," he said.  "We live in traffic.  You have to learn to work around it."


Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler said it is unclear how long the demolition will take and more tests are being conducted to determine whether the westbound side also will be torn down.

Crews had already begun pressure-spraying the westbound side of the bridge to dislodge material damaged in Wednesday’s spectacular fuel-tanker fire.

Chandler said the bridge would be demolished from the abutment to the columns in the center divider.

Beneath the bridge lay a foot of sand and gravel to cushion falling debris.

The fire was so intense that "the flames caused the cement above to pop and become brittle and fall to the roadway," Chandler said.

The heat was so intense that hours after the crash and long after the fire had been put out, Chandler said he could feel the temperature difference as he walked near the bridge.

"It was still warm," Chandler said. "Concrete retains for a long time. You could walk under the bridge and it was 15 degrees warmer."

As Chandler spoke, the freeway was silent, except for structural engineers and work crews conferring, amid the backhoes and cherry pickers and klieg lights they had brought to the scene. A helicopter hovered far in the distance.

The massive work facing these crews, and the hellish drive times awaiting commuters, all came down to a matter of a few feet. The truck driver, with his cargo of 8,800 gallons of gasoline ablaze, kept driving on the freeway, not stopping until he was near the bridge. An investigation into the incident is underway to determine the cause of the blaze.

Had he stopped well before the bridge, "it'd be a whole different thing,” Chandler said. Caltrans work crews could have replaced a slab of freeway in a night.

Authorities on Wednesday said they believed the heat and fire were so intense that the driver had no time to even pull to the side of the freeway. He and his passenger abandoned the big rig safely.

The miles-long freeway closure was necessary to allow crews to get heavy machinery to the scene, Chandler said.

"We need the space to come in and out," he said. "Time is money. The quicker we get this done, the quicker we can get the freeway opened."


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 -- Sam Quinones in Montebello and Angel Jennings in Los Angeles


Photo: The 60 Freeway remains closed in both directions between the 605 and the 710 freeways as work crews begin preparing for the demolition on the eastbound side of the Paramount Boulevard bridge following Wednesday's fuel tanker fire. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times