Truck lane still closed after I-5 pileup

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The California Highway Patrol reported Monday morning Oct. 15 that all Interstate 5 lanes were open in northern Los Angeles County except for the southbound truck lane after the freeway was shut down Saturday, Oct. 13, following a fiery pileup in a truck-only tunnel. CNN reported that the crash killed three people and injured at least 10 others.

The incident on the southbound lanes of Interstate 5 happened at about 10:40 p.m. PT Friday, said Warren Stanley, assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol. Investigators determined that 31 vehicles — including big rigs and one passenger vehicle — were involved in the crash 30 miles north of Los Angeles, authorities told CNN. The fire spread from vehicle to vehicle, sent flames shooting nearly 100 feet in the air outside the tunnel and reached temperatures as high as 1,400 degrees.

John Tripp, deputy chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, told CNN that of the 10 people hurt in the accident, eight had minor injuries and two had “moderate” injuries. Authorities have not identified the fatalities. Stanley, who refused to speculate on the cause of the crash, told CNN he did not know when findings would be released.

The structure is near the intersection of I-5, or Golden State Freeway, and California 14, or Antelope Valley Freeway. I-5 is the major north-south route in that part of the state. The blaze not only shut down the truck tunnel but also the northbound and southbound I-5 auto lanes that run above it. Authorities said a bridge above the tunnel that carries the two auto lanes also may be compromised.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was monitoring the situation, said Will Kempton, director of the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans. Schwarzenegger has put the state’s emergency services on alert, he told CNN, and the federal government has also offered assistance.

“I-5 is a very important, major north-south route,” Kempton told CNN. “It’s obviously very vital that we shoot to get this roadway open as soon as possible.” He and others asked for the public’s patience as authorities determine the tunnel’s safety for motorists.

The incident triggered delays of up to an hour Saturday, Oct. 13, and officials are worried weekday traffic will be hopelessly snarled. They’re urging motorists to find alternate routes and take advantage of public transit, and Caltrans is working with transit authorities to increase service in the area. Kempton told CNN that 225,000 vehicles travel I-5 daily; according to 2005 data from Caltrans, the interstate carries 12,500 vehicles per hour at peak times of the day, and the annual average daily traffic is 164,500.

The main southbound lanes of Interstate 5 were to reopen today, Oct. 15, authorities said, helping to alleviate some of the problem. But on Sunday evening, Interstate 5 was still shut down in both directions, snarling traffic on surrounding roads. Two northbound truck-bypass lanes around the crash site, which cars would be permitted to use, were to reopen as early as Sunday night, said Deborah Harris, California Department of Transportation spokeswoman.