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Northbound 5 Freeway near Dodger Stadium Likely to Remain Closed

Posted July 17, 2013

The state calls a news conference to explain just how badly Saturday's tanker fire damaged the structural columns that support the 5 over a pair of underground buried ramps from the 2 Freeway. This story was written by City News Service Commuters were warned Sunday that the northbound Golden State (5) Freeway, and half of the lanes on the southbound freeway, probably will remain closed near Dodger Stadium at least through Monday morning's rush hour. Contractors have been called in to install emergency shoring in two tunnels that carry transition roads under the freeway, a Caltrans official told City News Service. Those braces will also block two transition ramps from the Glendale (2) Freeway onto the 5 "for some weeks to come," spokesman Patrick Chandler said. In the meantime, the emergency braces will shore up the main freeway and allow traffic to begin flowing on the closed pair of southbound lanes, and all four northbound lanes, of the 5 Freeway. Those have been closed since the fire midday Saturday. "We are hoping to have the roadway open tomorrow morning, but it's likely that won't happen," Chandler told City News Service. The state called an afternoon news conference to explain just how badly Saturday's tanker fire damaged the structural columns that support the 5 over a pair of underground buried ramps from the 2 Freeway. "We are urging people to take public transportation Monday, and consider taking the Metrolink trains," Chandler said. "It's not going to be an easy day." That was an understatement for thousands of motorists stuck on surface streets today in Glendale, Highland Park, Atwater Village and other freeway- adjacent neighborhoods. Many were significantly delayed trying to get to today's early afternoon game at Dodger Stadium. For the immediate future, northbound 5 traffic today was shunted off onto the two-lane ramp to the north 2, for a detour through Glendale and return to the 5 via either the Ventura (134) or Foothill (210) freeways. Southbound 2 traffic was diverted to surface streets. Nearly 300,000 vehicles per day use the Golden State Freeway through the area, according to Caltrans figures. Traffic on the parallel Hollywood (101) Freeway quickly jammed Saturday, as word of the fire spread, and was jammed all day today. To the east, the only major freeway alternative is 16 miles distant: the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway. The parallel Los Angeles River smelled like gasoline after the fire, although much of the gasoline that flowed from tunnels into it had been allowed to burn off. The impact on wildlife, trees and marshes in the green river bottom, recently opened as a wilderness park, was being assessed. Furnace-like conditions were obvious to firefighters Saturday, as they battled the fire with foam and water for more than one hour. "Firefighters did an outstanding job battling multiple challenges on a single incident," LAFD spokesman Erik Scott said today. "A traffic collision, vegetation fire, an inferno in a tunnel, and 8500 gallons of gasoline spilling into storm drains and the LA River." Two tanker truck fires in 2012 damaged an interchange near the L.A. Zoo and caused enough damage to require removal of a major freeway overpass in Montebello. And in a chain reaction crash in a Newhall Pass truck bypass tunnel in 2007, investigators found that brass had liquefied as it reached 1,620 degrees Fahrenheit. Saturday's hazardous materials fire, reported at 10:31 a.m., was originally called in as a brush fire. Arriving firefighters thought they had burning freeway landscaping, but flames soon enveloped the busy freeway interchange, perched on columns above Riverside Drive in the Frogtown neighborhood north of Dodger Stadium. "It's truly impressive how quick multiple agencies came together in a unified command to handle all angles of concern from immediate life safety hazards, freeway and surface street traffic, the environmental effects, and even the impact on those attending the Dodger game that day," Scott said. "The fact that no one was injured in this major emergency adds proof to the outstanding job performed by all that responded." Flames and smoke soon began erupting from the freeway tunnel, as well as flood control drains and culverts in Frogtown east of the freeway and west of the river. Fire commanders urgently called for their trucks to be moved away from manhole covers, lest they explode under what one called "backdraft conditions." The truck's driver then told firefighters at the tunnel that his tanker truck had blown a tire and wiped out in the tunnel, igniting 8,500 gallons of fuel. That blaze and billowing black smoke closed parts of both freeways and tied up traffic for hours as thousands gathered for a game at nearby Dodger Stadium, city fire officials said. The driver, identified by the California Highway Patrol as Jose A. Castanon, 52, of Bellflower, escaped with minor injuries.