Tanker blast shuts down California highway

A tanker truck explosion in Montebello, CA, Wednesday damaged a highway overpass forcing closure of the 60 freeway from the 710 to the 605 until tonight at the earliest, causing detours and gridlock along the major east-west corridor, one of the busiest highways in the nation.

A tanker truck explosion in Montebello, CA, Wednesday damaged a highway overpass forcing closure of the 60 freeway from the 710 to the 605 until tonight at the earliest, causing detours and gridlock along the major east-west corridor, one of the busiest highways in the nation.

The tanker truck filled with thousands of gallons of gasoline exploded Wednesday afternoon and burned for 12 hours. The semi was abandoned under the Paramount Boulevard overpass subjecting it to scorching flames, which caused extensive structural damage to the overpass making it unsafe for motorists to drive on or under.

The truck driver and a passenger in the truck escaped uninjured as flames began to consume the tanker rig’s rear trailer, officials said. The driver was unable to move the vehicle off the freeway, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The California Highway Patrol said it was unclear whether the truck had hit another vehicle, run over debris or had a mechanical problem. CHP investigators said they were planning to inspect the tanker to determine if brake or other mechanical failure was involved.

About 220,000 vehicles traverse that part of the freeway daily, according to the California Dept. of Transportation. State transportation officials said Thursday afternoon that it was unclear when the highway would be reopened, but predicted it would be closed at least through Friday.

The 60 Freeway is a major goods-movement corridor within the six-county region, Rich Macias, the Southern California Assn. of Government’s director of transportation planning told the Whittier Daily News. More than $336 billion in cargo business moved on the highway in 2010 accounting for 32% of the region's GDP, according to SCAG.

“One of the fundamental principles of goods movement is, time is money,” Macias told the Whittier paper. “The longer it takes for a truck to get there, the more it will cost for whoever makes that profit.”

Macias said Wednesday’s tanker fire and freeway shutdown emphasized the need for dedicated truck lanes along the route, so that trucks would be separated from autos.

Because of the 60 Freeway’s importance as a truck route, SCAG has proposed adding four dedicated truck lanes, two lanes each way, to the 60 Freeway or to the nearby San Jose Creek right-of-way included in a draft Regional Transportation Plan developed by SCAG planners.

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