Gas truck crash halts traffic, scars Vegas freeway

A gasoline tanker overturned and burst into flames early Wednesday on a busy interstate outside downtown Las Vegas, closing the highway and snarling the morning commute.

Five southbound miles of Interstate 15 reopened Wednesday afternoon after being closed for much of the day as engineers evaluated whether the melted asphalt had compromised the roadway's structural integrity.

Repairs to that section of the main artery that runs from California to the Canadian border and through the heart of Las Vegas are expected to be completed next week, authorities said.

Traffic was being diverted but the crash scene created delays for the estimated 12,000 vehicles that travel the corridor on weekday mornings, according to Brian Hoeft of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.

The crash happened around 3:45 a.m. Wednesday when the driver lost control of the tanker carrying 9,100 gallons of gasoline about two miles north of downtown, Nevada Highway Patrol officials said.

The overturned tanker exploded, spilling fuel and sparking a blaze that took about two hours to extinguish. The driver escaped unharmed.

Flames closed all northbound and southbound lanes for a time during the early morning commute. The situation has eased a bit, in part because transportation officials have been using light-up billboards to warn drivers of the closure.

"It's pretty congested," said Nevada Department of Transportation spokeswoman Michelle Booth. "But it's been long enough that most people know not to go there, unless they're from out of town and aren't aware."

Authorities did not immediately release the name of the male driver. Highway patrol spokesman Loy Hixson said officers gave him a standard sobriety test after the crash, and he was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure.

Clean-up crews were busy Wednesday morning mopping up fuel from the spill to make way for inspectors. Pavement at the crash site was warped and charred from the extreme heat.

Booth said three of the five southbound lanes will likely be closed for several days as crews repair the scorched pavement and a blackened roadside barrier. Repairing the damage was expected to cost $100,000 to $150,000.

Highway patrol officers were diverting southbound traffic around the five-mile section of closed interstate.