Just three days after a tanker fire caused significant structural damage to an overpass crossing Interstate 95 in Norwalk, Conn., and forced the highway to close in both directions, the Connecticut Dept. of Transportation and its contractors were able to complete demolition of the bridge and reopen the busy highway. Planning is underway to rebuild the local road bridge, and federal officials made $3 million in quick release funding available to support the effort.

The fire started after a crash involving a tanker carrying 8,500 gallons of petroleum at about 5:30 a.m. May 2 under the Fairfield Avenue Bridge, officials said.

The state-owned continuous beam bridge was less than 10 years old, but it suffered “pretty severe” damage due to the amount of fuel in the tanker, Garrett Eucalitto, Conn. DOT commissioner, told reporters. DOT engineers determined it was not safe for traffic to pass under the damaged bridge.

“It ignited directly underneath the bridge structure,” he said during a press conference. “The steel did begin to overheat and warp.”

This stretch of I-95 sees an average of 160,000 vehicles each day, according to Eucalitto.

Gov. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.) declared a state of emergency on the day of the fire, and demolition led by Yonkers Contracting Co. Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y., started the next morning. 

Fred Cardillo, project manager at Yonkers Contracting, says the contractor had been working on a separate  agency bridge reconstruction project a mile or so away, allowing them to quickly pivot and mobilize for the emergency work. Part of the challenge was simply getting equipment to the site amid traffic displaced by the road closure.

"So the logistics of getting the equipment to that bridge was a struggle, because I-95 was closed," he says. "It was gridlock all around Norwalk."

Yonkers also brought in equipment with shears and grapples from subcontractor Breeze National Inc. of Freeport, N.Y., because they recently worked together on another state DOT project replacing two I-95 bridges over the course of two weekends, Cardillo says.

Crews worked around the clock, and by the night of May 4, they had completed demolition and cleared the northbound lanes to reopen. After demolition, they also had to mill and repave about 200 ft of the three southbound lanes and shoulder, which had also been damaged by the fire. They completed the work and reopened the southbound lanes the morning of May 5. 

“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,” Lamont said in a statement. 

Rebuilding the Fairfield Avenue Bridge will be a longer process. Eucalitto said agency engineers were inspecting the bridge’s median pier and abutments to see the extent of damage and whether they can be used for the new bridge. They are developing preliminary replacement plans and expect to complete initial designs within two weeks. 

The work is estimated to cost at least $20 million altogether, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters during a news conference. He said he and other lawmakers from the region were asking the Federal Highway Administration to cover the costs with emergency relief program funding. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation announced $3 million in quick release funding for the project May 6, but did not say whether it would cover all the costs.