Repairs to Bay Area highway could take months

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By Todd Dills

A crash of a gasoline tanker on an freeway interchange just east of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge caused sections of two highways to collapse Sunday, April 29. Eastbound I-80 and I-580 and southbound I-880 remain closed until repairs can be completed, which officials said could take months.

According to published reports, the tanker accident sent flames 200 feet into the air. The intense heat melted the stretch of the roadway, triggering the collapse.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an emergency declaration “in order to begin immediate repair of the interchange,” he said, and also to authorize free public transport for commuters in the Bay Area.

The tanker’s driver, James Mosqueda, 51, walked away from the crash with only minor injuries. No one else was involved in the accident. Early reports attributed unsafe speed as a contributing factor in the crash, which has thrown a spotlight on the limits of anti-terrorism rules that may not prevent people with checkered backgrounds from hauling hazardous materials on highways.

Mosqueda, who has a long criminal rap sheet, cleared an FBI criminal history check and an intelligence review from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, the Associated Press reported. The TSA said the checks aren’t designed to identify people with Mosqueda’s type of record, which includes a two-year prison term for a 1996 heroin conviction and other arrests but no terror charges. “We’re looking for terrorists,” spokeswoman Andrea McCauley told the AP.

Joe Come, program director for motorcarrier safety for the U.S Department of Transportation Inspector General’s Office, said the crash raises a broader issue. “There’s a general question of how hard do you want to make it for people to get a commercial driver’s license or anything else that can affect public safety,” Come told the AP. “Do we hold them to the same standard as airline pilots?”

California Assemblyman Pedro Nava, a Democrat who chairs both the Assembly Transportation Committee and the Joint Committee on Emergency Services and Homeland Security, met today, April 30, with California Highway Patrol officials at the crash site and plans to meet with officials from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and the trucking industry to strengthen requirements for drivers.

“A family driving on the highway and looking at a gasoline tanker truck out the window assumes that driver has met the highest standards,” Nava told the AP.