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Traffic came to a standstill as workers began clearing the I-95 overpass that was scorched in Connecticut’s tanker truck inferno

Work crews began demolishing a bridge damaged in a fiery crash that kept Interstate 95 closed for a second day in Connecticut on Friday, as drivers’ nerves frayed in hours-long traffic jams on and around the main artery between New England and New York further strained.

“It’s crazy,” said Marco Ortiz, a tattoo artist at Norwalk’s Javier Eastman Tattoo Studios on Connecticut Avenue, one of the detours lined up close together. “I saw people beeping, trying to cut other people off, making faces and making hand gestures. It is not good. You have to be patient. What else can we do? It was a really bad accident.”

The highway remained closed in both directions following the three-vehicle crash Thursday morning that caused a gasoline tanker to burst into flames, flooding the Fairfield Avenue overpass above I-95 in Norwalk and damaging the structure.

Gov. Ned Lamont said plans to reopen all six lanes before rush hour Monday morning appeared to be on track.

“And here we are, more than 24 hours later, the bridge will collapse very soon,” Lamont said at a news conference in Norwalk on Friday. “The scissors come to take off the last piece of it. Put the asphalt back in place. And hopefully…we’ll get I-95 open in both directions on Monday.”

Officials say about 160,000 vehicles travel this stretch of I-95 in both directions each day. For some drivers, detours along local roads took an hour or more, while others sought alternative routes far from the scene of the accident.

John Blair, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said the trucking industry group has been working with state police and the DOT to inform truckers throughout the Northeast about safe alternative routes, including I-84.

He said there have been problems in the last 24 hours with tractor-trailer drivers who don’t know their way around Connecticut trying to get around the closure by hitting low bridges or destroying power lines on local roads. State police said they knew of only one incident in which a commercial vehicle crashed into an overpass on the Merritt Parkway in New Canaan, where tractor-trailers are banned because of the bridge’s low height.

Blair said his group has been trying to get truckers to avoid that part of the state.

“We’re pushing them north as best we can,” Blair said. “We’re trying to get to them before they get to Connecticut and make sure they avoid 95 completely.”

Workers began demolishing the bridge Friday morning. They used excavators – one on each side of the highway – and were armed with jackhammers. Shovel loaders picked up the debris that fell onto the highway below and dumped it into containers that were hauled away by trucks.

The shears Lamont spoke of are specialized heavy equipment designed to cut off the bridge’s metal support members beginning Saturday morning, officials said. This should take about 24 hours, then the damaged parts of the highway will be repaired by milling and repaving, according to the state transport Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto.

The accident occurred around 5:30 a.m. Thursday on the southbound side of the highway.

According to state police, a car left the right lane and crashed into the tanker truck carrying 8,500 gallons (32,000 liters) of fuel. The truck then crashed into a semi-trailer in another lane and caught fire. No one was seriously injured and no charges were filed.

As of Friday afternoon, the state Department of Transportation said travel time for the 16 miles (26 kilometers) from the New York border to Route 7 in Norwalk on I-95 North was nearly 90 minutes.

Jillian Mauro, a Republican press secretary in the Connecticut House of Representatives, said she noticed many more semi-trucks along I-84 as she drove from Danbury to Hartford, as well as bent fenders from stop-and-go traffic.

“There is definitely a steady parade of trucks,” said Mauro, whose drive to the Capitol on Friday took 90 minutes instead of the usual hour.

The bridge removal and road repairs could cost about $20 million, said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut. He and other members of the state’s congressional delegation sent a letter asking the Federal Highway Administration for emergency funds to cover all costs. Lamont has declared a state of emergency, which could speed up funding.

“A rapid reopening of I-95 is critically important to keeping car and truck traffic flowing through New England,” the delegation wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The Merritt Parkway, which is open only to passenger vehicles, experienced 13-mile delays Friday morning, the letter said, while trucks and other commercial vehicles were forced to take “much longer alternate routes.”

The accident was reminiscent of a fatal accident last year in Philadelphia, when a tractor-trailer hauling gasoline on I-95 lost control, caught fire and destroyed a section of the highway.

Thursday’s accident also came a little more than a year after a fatal crash on I-95 in Connecticut in April 2023, when a tanker truck caught fire after colliding with a stopped car on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge between New London and Groton .

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Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.

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