NB I-75 to be closed until Monday after tanker crash

Leonard N. Fleming, Holly Fournier, and Tom Greenwood

Lincoln Park — Downriver commuters and weekend travelers coming into Detroit will have to find alternative routes until early Monday following a spectacular tanker truck explosion before dawn Thursday that critically injured the driver and severely damaged a mile-long portion of northbound Interstate 75.

Michigan Department of Transportation officials estimate that 55,000 daily commuters would be affected, as road workers rush to rebuild a 110-foot portion of roadway, between Southfield Road and Outer Drive, that was burned by the 8,000 gallons of gas that seared the concrete nearly 3 inches deep.

The unidentified 53-year-old truck driver for Corrigan Oil Co. remained in critical condition Thursday night with severe burns. His tanker crashed southbound after the Outer Drive bridge. The tanker hopped the median. Michigan State Police are investigating.

MDOT suggested that motorists headed to Detroit use Interstate 94 from the Southfield Freeway, or take Fort Street, which runs parallel to I-75, to the freeway at Outer Drive.

Drivers will need to heed I-94 roadwork, however: Two left lanes will be closed from Oakwood to the Lodge Freeway from 7 a.m. Saturday until 9 p.m. Sunday; farther east, all east- and westbound lanes in Detroit will be closed from the Lodge Freeway to I-75 from 9 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday for bridge repairs at Woodward.

Spokeswoman Diane Cross said MDOT hopes to reopen the affected area at 5 a.m. Monday, but warned that it could take longer depending on how quickly it takes the concrete to set. State officials signed a $200,000 contract with Florence Cement Co. of Shelby Township to make the repairs.

“The concrete is severely damaged and all lanes need to be replaced on northbound I-75 at Outer Drive,” Cross said. “It was bad, but if this had occurred during rush-hour traffic, there’s no telling how many persons could have been injured,” she said. “There could have been 25 other vehicles around the tanker.”

A hazmat team was called to the scene to remove gasoline from the tanker and a pump house near Southfield Road.

MDOT officials say “high-impact” crashes that closed more than one lane or ramp in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties have been on the rise. In 2013, there were 1,259 crashes, climbing to 1,420 in 2014. There have been 919 crashes through July, the latest statistics available.

“It sure seems like these incidents seem to be happening more often lately than we’ve experience in the past,” said Carmine Palombo, the deputy director of SEMCOG, a regional government agency that studies mass transportation issues including roads. “Each one of these has to be analyzed by itself to be able to find the causes. We’ve had some incidents of driver error. We’ve had a couple of situations where it had something to do with the cargo itself. We’ve had incidents where other drivers have been part of the reason for it.”

Full road closures due to these accidents have been climbing, too. In 2013, there were 288; in 2014, there were 295. So far this year through July, there have been 132, MDOT officials say.

Rob Morosi of MDOT said a combination of factors contribute to these accidents, including an “uptick” in the economy with more people working, and on the roads, distractions such as cell phones and weather.

Morosi said Thursday’s crash doesn’t “supersede other similar accidents dramatically but looking at the location, the traffic volume, it’s probably one of the more significant ones we’ve had.”

“We’ve received some flak because we post the fatality numbers on the message boards, but there’s a reason why those numbers are being posted,” Morosi said. “And that is to create awareness. If posting those fatality numbers gets one person driving on the freeway to not answer their cell phones, to not look at a text, then we’ve accomplished our goal.”

Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to contact the Michigan State Police at (248) 584-5740.

Staff Writer Holly Fournier contributed.

Other tanker crashes on Metro area freeways this year

■On June 23, I-75 was closed in both directions at I-94 when the cab of a tanker caught fire. No one was injured in the fire, which halted traffic for several hours.

■On May 25, a tanker carrying 9,000 gallons of gasoline exploded on I-75 at I-375 (known as “Stroh’s Curve”), which takes northbound I-75 travelers over the Gratiot underpass. No one was injured in the blaze, which sent huge plumes of smoke skyward.

■On March 11, a tanker explosion heavily damaged I-94 in an area between U.S. 12 and Wyoming. The river of flaming fuel destroyed the eastbound pavement. It took a week before the eastbound lanes were reopened.