Damaged Bridge on I-95 at Norwalk, CT, to be Demolished

May 3, 2024
The interstate remains shut down after three vehicles, including a gas tanker, caught fire.

Kalleen Rose Ozanic

The News-Times, Danbury, Conn.


May 2—NORWALK — A tractor-trailer fire has closed Interstate 95 and caused massive delays on the Merritt Parkway, Post Road and other local roads on Thursday.

All I-95 lanes in the area remain closed Thursday afternoon due to the crash that occurred between exits 16 and 14 around 5:30 a.m., according to Connecticut's Department of Transportation's website.

Josh Morgan, a DOT spokesperson, said southbound traffic was being diverted off the highway at Exit 16. Northbound traffic was diverting off at Exit 13.

Local company responded to blaze

Norwalk based King Industries responded to Norwalk Fire Department call for aid Thursday morning by helping crews put out the fire with the foam spraying vehicle.

"We use a green foam which is non-fluorinated foam," said Mike Bourgoin, the environmental manager at King Industries.

Retired Norwalk Firefighter Tim Morrissette received a call from Ed McCabe, assistant chief-operations for NFD, on his way to work at King Industries Thursday morning.

"The vehicle is readily available for whenever it's needed," Morrissette explained. "Ed had given me a call... and I literally parked my vehicle and got in our quick-response vehicle and headed to the highway, so under five minutes, we're able to get the vehicle on scene."

King Industries worked alongside Norwalk Fire to contain the fire using the green foam.

"Water supply is a problem and especially on a highway like that, so it took us some time to get a good water supply so we could apply the correct amount of foam," Morrissette said. "Once we did get the water supply, probably 20 to 25 minutes, we were able to put the fire out with our vehicle."

Ruined tanker hauled away

The tanker is being towed from the highway as of around 4:45 p.m, and the fire department is clearing the scene, Assistant Fire Chief Mark Conte said.

Norwalk Public Schools closed on Friday

In a message to the community, officials said Norwalk Public Schools will be closed on Friday because of ongoing traffic concerns and delays. They said the district will allow athletic games, drama performances and proms to take place, but all practices are canceled through the weekend.

Officials explain traffic detours

Connecticut State Police Col. Daniel Loughman said I-95 north is closed at Exit 14, so motorists will get off there and drive to the Exit 15 on-ramp. He said drivers headed south will leave the highway at Exit 15, drive onto West Avenue and get back on at Exit 14 south.

Loughman said people in passenger vehicles can get on Route 7 and take Exit 3 onto Route 15.

Bill Turner, Connecticut's emergency management director, said the state has been using wireless emergency alerts to notify people driving anywhere from the New York border in Port Chester to Bridgeport about the highway closure. He said that system has been running since this morning.

"Anyone who drives into that area ... will receive a wireless alert on their cellphone advising them to avoid the area," he said. "We're going to keep that active throughout the night into tomorrow."

Turner said it seems the message was working, as traffic coming in from New York has decreased.

Temporary bridge not possible, rebuild could take up to a year, DOT says

DOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto said it would not be possible to put up a temporary bridge along Fairfield Avenue — over I-95 — because of how wide the gap between the solid roadways is.

"We will have to build a new bridge," he said.

As soon as the damaged bridge is removed, Eucalitto said, engineers will inspect the pier in the median. If it is safe, he said, that will make the bridge rebuild easier. Still, he said, the bridge rebuild will take place over the course of a year or so.

State police: Investigation into crash still active

Connecticut State Police Col. Daniel Loughman said no one has been charged in connection with the crash, adding the investigation is ongoing. He said troopers were able to map the scene, do inspections on all the vehicles involved, take measurements and photographs and interview witnesses.

Loughman said troopers have been placed along the diversion area route to control the flow of traffic.

"We're just looking for cooperation from the public to avoid the area," he said, adding troopers will work to ensure commercial vehicles stay off the parkways.

Norwalk mayor: Situation 'could have been so much worse'

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said the situation "could have been so much worse," adding cooperation between local and state authorities mitigated that.

"We're optimistic that we're going to get moving forward," he said. "Things will get back to normal in Norwalk as quickly as we possibly can."

Rilling said extra police officers and firefighters will be working over the next few days.

Lamont declared an emergency, traffic still significant

Lamont said he had issued a declaration of emergency, and notified federal officials. He said he hopes to get federal reimbursement for the bridge replacement.

Traffic on I-84, Rt. 87 and Rt. 15 is still heavy, Lamont said, adding that motorists should avoid the area if possible. He said extra rail service is being offered for people who need other options for commuting to New York City or Hartford.

"My recommendation is, if you can't stay home, take the train," he said. "Stay away from the cars."

Governor Lamont says 'bridge is going to have to come down'

In a news conference late Thursday afternoon, Gov. Ned Lamont said the heat from the fire damaged the bridge, so it will have to be taken down. He said that demolition will start at 3 a.m. Friday, adding it will take about a day to do so. He said the highway will likely be fully reopened by Monday morning.

Fire and smoke from crash did not impact air quality, DEEP says

In a Tweet, DEEP said environmental officials conducted air monitoring at the scene and no impacts to air quality were detected.

Environmental officials work to remove gasoline

Rich Scalora, the supervising emergency response coordinator with the state DEEP, said workers from Republic Services have pumped out 4,100 gallons of gas that was untouched in the tanker. Now, he said, crews are pumping the remaining gas that's mixed with foam and water.

Scalora said the tanker is split into compartments, which is why some gas remained untouched. He said the next steps are digging up the gas in the soil surrounding the highway.

"We're going to dig up all that soil that's impacted or potentially impacted because if we leave it in there, all it's going to do is continue to saturate into the ground and we want to avoid that at all costs," he said.

Scalora said some of the gasoline went into catch basins and from there went into a retention pond on West Avenue.

"Gasoline, unlike oil, floats on top of water. Gasoline is what we call miscible, so it kind of mixes into the water, so it's a lot harder to retrieve or remove from the water," he said.

Workers will put down Speedy Dry to clean the highway and must sweep the roadway, Scalora said, adding the goal is to have all work done in 24 hours.

"We're going to work through the night or we're going to work for as long as it takes," he said.

Norwalk police list road closures

In a post on Facebook, the Norwalk Police Department said officers are stationed at various intersections throughout the city to help alleviate congestion.

Police said Fairfield Avenue is closed from Cedar Street to Connecticut Avenue; Cedar Street is closed eastbound from Connecticut Avenue to Fairfield Avenue and is closed in both directions from Fairfield Avenue to Reed Street. They said Stuart Avenue's southbound lane is closed from Connecticut Avenue to Reed Street.

DEEP officials say no gasoline found in Norwalk River

On Thursday afternoon, Paul Copleman, a DEEP spokesperson, said environmental contractors working oversight were recovering gasoline from a retention basin that collects stormwater drainage from Interstate 95. He said the retention basin is located along West Avenue, Route 7 and Interstate 95.

"It does not appear that any of the spilled gasoline has entered the Norwalk River or the Norwalk Harbor," he said. "Booms are in place at the outfall to the river as a precaution."

Federal officials address impact of tanker crash

In a congressional hearing on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D- Conn., spoke to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about the crash and its impact on the I-95 corridor.

"I know you've already put out a statement on this, but I just wanted to get your commitment that you'll be working all throughout the day, personally and through your staff, to make sure that we assess the damage, we get crews out there, and we get the highway and the overpass open as safe as it is possible for commuters and residents," he said.

Buttigieg said he had spoken to Gov. Lamont Thursday morning about the situation, adding the the Federal Highway Administrator was tracking it. He said the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will get involved if necessary, "given any spillage that might be in play."

"And we'll do everything we can to help everybody get back to normal there," he said. "We know and of course have been reminded through experience just how important a smooth and normal ride on I-95 can be."

Westport schools superintendent expects delays on bus routes

Westport Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent an email to the district community Thursday afternoon alerting expected delays to the after-school commute.

"While this morning's accident leaves many uncertainties with travel time, I do want to remind families of the First View Bus Tracking App which can assist in determining exact drop off times," he said.

Families that do not have the app can download it from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Scarice also thanked Westport's bus company, First Student, for its efforts of getting students safely to school.

"They were on top of the travel issues long before buses started rolling and did incredible work navigating the clogged streets," he said. "I am sure they will handle this afternoon's commute in a similar fashion."

Westport police Lt. Eric Woods confirmed in a media release that as of 1 p.m., I-95 near Westport/Norwalk remained closed with no estimation of reopening. Police are advising those who do not need to travel to stay off the roads.

" Westport will remain extremely heavy through the evening commute, and most likely in the days to come," he said.

Tanker swerved to avoid crash, official says

A Standard Oil tanker had swerved to avoid a collision after a sedan cut off a tractor-trailer on I-95 southbound, according to Norwalk Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Shay.

In doing so, the back of the tanker was ripped open, spilling gasoline and causing the fire, he added.

Shay said some gasoline spilled into the Norwalk River, an issue the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is handling. Shay said that responders installed booms on the catch basins to prevent gasoline from going into the river.

Police: Westport traffic also heavily impacted, likely to last days

The Westport Police Department said traffic will likely be heavily impacted for the next several days.

"We have been in communication with local authorities as they navigate the safe reopening of the interstate," police said.

Westport police encouraged motorists to stay home, if they can.

Official: Bridge will be torn down tonight

Norwalk Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Shay said the Fairfield Avenue bridge will be torn down in the next 48 hours, citing information from the state DOT.

Shay said the demolition will start Thursday night. In the meantime, traffic will be rerouted between exits 16 and 14.

Lamont delays second scheduled presser to 5 p.m.

For an unknown reason, Gov. Lamont's second press conference of the day is being moved to 5 p.m., even though it was orginally announced to start at 2 p.m.

The press conference will still take place at the Connecticut Emergency Operations Center in Hartford.

When asked why the press conference was postponed, Bednarz said officials would have "more updates available at that time."

Police asks for continued patience from public

By 1 p.m. on Thursday, Norwalk police said there still were serious delays and congestion in the area on I-95.

While patrol officers are trying to reroute traffic in the heavily-trafficked areas , the police department said on X that " Fairfield Ave. is closed from Cedar St. to Connecticut Ave. Cedar St. is closed eastbound from Connecticut Ave to Fairfield Ave. and is closed both directions from Fairfield Ave. to Reed St. Stuart Ave. is closed southbound from Connecticut Ave. to Reed St."

Judicial court proceedings affected by Norwalk crash

The Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District also felt the effects of Thursday's crash. Many of the district's most serious cases needed to be administratively continued Thursday because prisoners couldn't be transported from the state's various correctional facilities that sit north of the crash site in Norwalk.

And the effects of the crash may linger beyond Thursday for the state's most southerly district judicial district.

"This may be an issue tomorrow, as well," said Judge Bruce Hudock during Thursday's proceedings.

"It may be even more than two days," replied Assistant State's Attorney Michael Nemec.

Lamont schedules another press conference at 2 p.m.

David Bednarz, a spokesperson for Lamont, said another press conference to discuss an update on the fire is scheduled to occur in Hartford at 2 p.m.

Lamont spoke at the same place, the Connecticut Emergency Operations Center, earlier in the day, at 9:30 a.m.

Fire Chief: Tanker involved cannot be moved until unloaded

City and state officials met at the Norwalk City Hall at around 11:30 a.m. Thursday to discuss updates on the serious I-95 crash.

Fire Chief Gino Gatto said the tanker involved in the crash cannot be moved until all remaining load, if any, is offloaded.

Gatto said many surrounding towns offered resources, such as their fire departments and hazmat units, to aid city officials.

Motorists are being asked to avoid the area and work from home for the next several days, as the area is expected to remain busy, Mayor Rilling said.

Don Remson, a DOT maintenance supervisor, said utilities that run under the bridge have been shut off indefinitely and officials are waiting for the scene to be cleared safe. Once it is cleared, engineers can start working.

"We don't have, can't tell you what's going on with the damage because they haven't been able to fully inspect the bridge," Remson said. "So we're hoping to have another meeting sometime later today with the engineers and our construction people to see what the next step for the bridge is."

Police Chief James Walsh reminded motorists and residents to keep checking city social media pages for updates in the upcoming hours, as more updates are expected.

Police: Flames may have rose about 100 feet above overpass

Police Sgt. Dan Sefcik estimates that when the oil truck was fully engulfed, flames rose about 100 feet above the bridge.

"When you can feel the heat, you know you're too close," Sefcik said.

City officials are scheduled to have a press conference with updates on the crash and scene at 11:30 a.m.

State police assuming investigation into crash, scene remains active

State police are taking the lead on the investigation, said Norwalk police Lt. Robert Zwillich, who reported to the scene just before 6 a.m.

As traffic piled up on Norwalk's side streets, a tractor-trailer caught a sagging wire in front of 79 Cedar St., said Bryce Micah, a senior lineman for South Norwalk Electric and Water. He said the road was not shut down and that SNEW bucket trucks responded.

Nearby, a cashier at Old Post Spirit shop, Carlos Quinga, on the corner of Cedar St. and Fairfield Ave., said he hopes that people stuck in traffic can stop in and get some non-alcoholic refreshments.

Quinga said he lives nearby, on Golden Hill, and got stuck in a bit of traffic when he drove to work.

"It's my first time seeing traffic like this," Quinga said. "Crazy."

Darien officials tell motorists to expect delays

Shortly after 10 a.m., the Darien Police Department issued a statement on social media that the town was experiencing major traffic delays because of the situation on I-95.

Drivers were advised to expect continuous delays throughout the day and allow extra time for travel.

Motorists at standstill for hours

One Bridgeport resident sat in traffic for hours en route to Stamford.

Jennifer Decoteau, an occupational therapist at Aspire Living and Learning Academy in Stamford, was stuck on Cedar Street about 10:30 a.m. and had been in traffic since 7 a.m.

She left Bridgeport at 7 a.m., got to Westport at 8 a.m., when she dropped off her children at Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Program. It took her 1 1/2 hours to get to Norwalk and she still needed to get to Stamford.

Lamont shares video of firefighters putting out blaze

Lamont posted a video on X of firefighters working to put out the blaze that occurred earlier this morning.

"Despite the dramatic scene, thankfully everyone involved is safe," Lamont wrote.

Firefighter sustained leg injury

The Norwalk Fire Department said a responding firefighter was taken to Norwalk Hospital with a leg injury.

The fire was extinguished within an hour of firefighters being dispatched around 5:30 a.m., the department added. In addition, the department said all involved in the crash were able to self-extract themselves from their vehicles.

Firefighters worked to stream water onto the overpass above to cool it down from the flames, but the fire department said it still has "extensive damage."

The department said King Industries responded to the scene to apply foam, which was used to help extinguish the flames.

" King Industries was pivotal in putting the fire out," Deputy Fire Chief Joe Coppola said.

Officials are still trying to determine how long I-95, in both directions, will be closed to traffic. The fire department added that the Fairfield Avenue overpass also remains closed at 10:20 a.m.

Lamont: 'Thank God nobody was hurt'

Gov. Ned Lamont said it will take state police several hours to investigate the crash, but he did not have a timeframe when the area will be able to reopen. He added that he was extremely grateful nobody was seriously injured.

"I know what an incredible inconvenience this is for people," Lamont said. "And all I can ask you to do is stay away from that area as best you can, the traffic jams are horrendous, we're on this right now."

Paul Rizzo, bureau chief of highway operation, said officials have been in touch with surrounding states to notify them of the shutdown.

Scott Hill, chief engineer at the state's DOT, said officials do not know the extent of the damage to the bridge, but it is currently stable.

"Certainly, we're not going to let local traffic over it," Hill said. "What we have is a utilities hanging down and we have to figure out what status utilities, utility companies are on site. We need to get the utilities out of the way."

News conference scheduled in Hartford

Gov. Ned Lamont and other state officials are scheduled to meet at the Connecticut Emergency Operations Center in Hartford to discuss the crash.

DEEP monitoring quality of nearby water

Copleman of the DOT said the crash is near a "catch basin system" that runs into the Norwalk Harbor, so officials will have to monitor nearby water quality.

Private marine and various fire and police department units are "preparing for the possibility of product from the accident reaching the water," Copleman said.

Mayor: Bridge 'will probably have to be taken down'

Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said a firefighter was transported to the hospital with minor injuries, but otherwise there were no serious injuries due to the fire.

Rilling said the overpass directly above the flames is "compromised" and "will probably have to be taken down."

All area schools have sent out alerts to parents to expect serious delays, but there were no cancellations by 8:30 a.m., Rilling said.

Traffic was backed up heavily along I-95 in the area, as well as Route 1, Route 15 and surrounding areas. The DOT's traffic website showed traffic congestion and shutdowns on East Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Van Zant Street, North Main Street, Flax Hill Road, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and others.

Official: Gas tanker and car were involved in crash

Paul Copleman, a spokesperson for the state's Department of Transportation, said that two tractor-trailers, one "fully loaded with 8,500 gallons of gasoline," and a passenger vehicle were involved in the crash.

The tanker then burned for about at least an hour or hour-and-a-half. Morgan said that the fire was fully extinguished at around 8:20 a.m.

Morgan said DOT crews out of Darien and Westport shut down the highway, while local authorities closed off the area around the overpass.

In addition to the bridge, crews also will need to inspect Interstate 95, and coordinate with utilities. A photo posted by Norwalk police showed several poles appeared to have burned and come down, draping wires across the road.

I-95 "is closed in the area. This will impact local roads throughout Norwalk for an extended period of time and will create heavy traffic delays. Please seek alternate routes and give yourself extra time to travel," the post said.

Massive traffic delays

Traffic on Connecticut Avenue and surrounding roads in Norwalk and Westport was backed up or in some areas at a standstill as commuters try to navigate around the crash. People stuck in the shutdown were out of their cars and milling about in the breakdown lanes.

Morgan acknowledged the incident came at the "heart of rush hour" and said those who are able should find an alternative such as working remotely, going in later or taking the train.

"It's going to be really congested in Fairfield County this morning, and throughout the day," he added.

Staff writers Emily DiSalvo, Hollie Hersh, Kat Lutge, Kalleen Rose Ozanic, Kayla Mutchler and Pat Tomlinson contributed to this story.


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