BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Drivers on Interstate 95 (search) were forced to take a slow detour onto city streets and back roads Friday after a fiery tanker-truck crash that could snarl traffic for weeks along one of the busiest highways in America.
The wreck burned so fiercely Thursday night that it caused the steel beams in an overpass to melt and buckle, forcing the closing of a one-mile stretch of I-95, the main highway connecting New York to Boston and the rest of New England.
"It's a mess," said salesman Joseph Geharty, 52, who was stuck in Fairfield on the way to his Framingham, Mass., home. "It's not like I can do anything about it, so I'm just trying to take it easy, not get stressed out, and just accept the fact that I'm not going to be back home on time."
Reopening the highway in both directions could take two weeks or more, Gov. John G. Rowland (search) said. The state will receive $11.2 million in emergency federal aid to help get the job done.
"Keep your fingers crossed, and we'll do the best we can," he said.
State police urged all motorists to avoid the area. Rowland asked commercial truck traffic from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts to enter Connecticut on Interstate 84 or not at all. Truckers could be forced to take long detours along I-84 or the Massachusetts Turnpike (search).
"The ripple effect likely can go through the whole country," said Bob Costello, chief economist with the American Trucking Association. "It's a very big inconvenience. It's going to cost businesses money."
Nearly 120,000 vehicles a day travel the span where the crash occurred.
No one was seriously injured in the crash. State police said the truck driver, Gilbert Robinson, 33, was trying to avoid a car and hit a concrete barrier. The truck was carrying 12,000 gallons of home heating oil that burned in a huge fireball.
The southbound side of the overpass, where the truck crashed, sagged several feet and must be torn down. Engineers were assessing the northbound lanes to see if they could still be used. Either way, officials planned to build a temporary highway to allow traffic to resume quickly.
Connecticut was buying a prefabricated temporary bridge from New Jersey to replace a section of the overpass, state transportation officials said Friday evening.
The crash exposed the vulnerability of an aging and overburdened transportation network in Connecticut, a state lawmaker said.
"This is a transportation crisis. Our main artery has been severed," said Democratic state Rep. Moira Lyons (search). "The accident and its aftermath illustrate Connecticut's desperate need for mass transit options for commuters and alternatives for freight service."
Tourist destinations along the I-95 corridor, such as Connecticut's casinos and the Mystic seaport, also were expected to feel the effects. "It's the tourism equivalent of code red," said Ed Dombroskas, director of the state's tourism office.
At the New England Truck Stop in Sturbridge, Mass., where the Massachusetts Turnpike meets I-84, some truckers were plotting other ways to get to the New York area.
Richard McConnell, hauling bottled water to Detroit, said he usually tries to avoid I-95.
"I'm not surprised something like this happened," the trucker from Houston said. "You've got all those people living in Connecticut and driving to their jobs in New York City and a ton of truck drivers trying to fit between them all."