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I-95 in CT reopens following days of traffic nightmares due to massive fire

Governor Ned Lamont and Connecticut Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto provided an update regarding the ongoing demolition of the Fairfield Avenue Bridge over Interstate 95 in Norwalk. Work to remove the damaged structure began at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, May 3, and crews will continue working on this around the clock through the weekend. Once the bridge is removed, sections of I-95 will be milled and paved in both directions in the area.
Connecticut Department of Transportation
Office of Governor Lamont
Both sides of Interstate 95 following an early morning crash involving a passenger car, a tractor-trailer and a tanker truck carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline.

Interstate 95 in Norwalk is now reopen in both directions.

Crews worked to repair the highway and take down an overpass that was critically damaged after a truck carrying thousands of gallons of gasoline caught fire on Thursday.

Workers on Friday began removing portions of the Fairfield Avenue Bridge, snarling traffic along the heavily trafficked I-95 corridor linking New England and New York.

Northbound lanes reopened Saturday evening and southbound lanes reopened Sunday morning. Crews had to clean up the concrete, steel and other debris from the bridge demolition and roadway. Crews also worked on milling, paving and restriping pavement markings.

“It is truly amazing that in less than 80 hours from that fiery crash Thursday that shut down traffic in both directions, the highway again is fully open,” Gov. Ned Lamont said in a statement Sunday morning.

Drivers have been advised to avoid the area while the highway was shut down. Traffic cameras showed cars and trucks creeping along as an excavator demolished the bridge Friday afternoon, ripping off its damaged sides.

Lamont had said he was optimistic I-95 would reopen for the Monday morning commute.

On Thursday, an early-morning crash involving two trucks and a passenger vehicle sparked a massive fire that shut down I-95 both ways near exit 15 in Norwalk.

The collision involved one truck loaded with 8,500 gallons of gasoline, which erupted in flames underneath the bridge that passes over I-95 north and south.

There were no fatalities or serious injuries reported.

Watch: Crews work to repair Interstate 95 in Norwalk

State officials are offering a livestream of the repair work. Watch here.

Overpass replacement could take up to a year, officials say

While state officials are optimistic the highway will be reopened within days, replacing the Fairfield Avenue Bridge could take up to a year, said Garrett Eucalitto, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation.

CTDOT engineers have been working to develop preliminary replacement plans for the bridge. Those initial designs are expected to be completed within the next two weeks, officials said.

"We have to live with it," Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said. "It's not ideal, but we understand that."

Local first responders have been using alternate routes in town and said they didn't anticipate a major delay in response times due to the interstate closure.

The federal government will pay for repairs following the fire, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.

"The money is there. It doesn’t have to be appropriated. It doesn’t have to be authorized," Blumenthal said. "There is Federal Highway Administration money there for emergency relief designed to meet exactly this need."

Connecticut's Congressional delegation will request millions of dollars to cover the cost of the bridge replacement, Blumenthal said.

State of emergency declared to expedite repairs

Lamont said the damage to the bridge was severe.

"The heat from the burning fuel compromised some of the bridge. So that bridge is going to have to come down," Lamont said. "That could probably take 24 hours or a little longer than that. Then they’re going to have to take a second look at repaving to make sure the road is safe and secure."

Lamont declared a state of emergency to "help expedite some of the resources needed for us to respond to this situation."

Eucalitto noted that the bridge is less than 10 years old, but damage was severe due to the amount of gasoline in the tanker and that it was ignited directly underneath the bridge.

“The steel did begin to overheat and warp," Eucalitto said.

Our earlier coverage:

Traffic nightmare snarls roads, testing driver patience

Motorists should seek alternate routes and plan for traffic delays as a result of the road work, officials said Friday.

Traffic on Friday was bumper-to-bumper and some drivers' nerves were frayed along Norwalk's Connecticut Avenue, one of the detour routes. Employees at local stores said it took them an extra 30 minutes to an hour to get to work, and they were seeing a drop in business.

“It's crazy,” said Marco Ortiz, a tattoo artist at Javier Eastman Tattoo Studios on Connecticut Avenue. “I’ve seen people beeping, trying to cut other people off, making faces, hand gestures. It's not good. You've got to be patient. What else can we do? It was a really bad accident.”

Eucalitto, the state transportation commissioner, urged patience as crews worked to clear the site.

"We have seen incidents of people getting frustrated with the queues of traffic. Trying to get around those crews. Actually entering into our work zones — putting contractors and DOT workers at risk," he said.

He continued: "I need people to be patient. Try and avoid the area."

Text alerts were sent to residents of Connecticut and New York, and trucking companies were notified to find alternative routes and means of travel, Lamont said. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has also been notified.

On Thursday, traffic was backed up for dozens of miles during the morning rush hour and the crash left other highways and secondary roads in gridlock. The major alternate route in the area, the Merritt Parkway, cannot be used by trucks because the underpasses on that highway are too low.

Schools close and weekend activities canceled due to road work

Norwalk Police Department
Officials are reporting I-95 will remain closed for an indefinite period of time.

Norwalk Public Schools canceled school Friday due to traffic concerns. All practices were canceled through the weekend, although the district was allowing athletic games, drama performances and proms to take place.

Norwalk’s Open Streets: Walk, Bike & Roll Festival was postponed and will not be held on Saturday. A new date and more information will be posted soon, city officials said.

Environmental impacts minimal, officials say

Crews worked Friday morning to complete soil excavation along I-95 south of the bridge, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Soil was removed from the site and cleaning of storm drains is underway.

"Inspections confirm that Norwalk River and Harbor remain unaffected by the spill," the agency said in a statement.

Crews Thursday were assessing potential contamination to nearby waterways as a result of the fuel spill, said Paul Copleman, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. But officials said later that day the runoff was contained to a retention pond and did not make it into the Norwalk River.

This story has been updated. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.