Interstate 70 was set late Friday to finally reopen for traffic but not in time to spare people leaving the Royals game from a traffic migraine.
The highway had been closed since shortly before 5 a.m. after a tanker truck overturned, spilled flammable liquid and exploded. The wreck tossed the median barriers around and forced the closure to traffic in both directions. The crash between Manchester Trafficway and Interstate 435 put a big clamp on one of the metropolitan area’s busiest arteries, carrying about 100,000 vehicles a day, 15 to 18 percent of them trucks.
“This is an extraordinary shutdown,” said Steve Porter, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation, as the situation neared its 18th hour. “This occurred at precisely the wrong point and it blocked both eastbound and westbound traffic by the way the barrier was pushed out into the lanes.”
The driver of the tanker truck was taken to a hospital with minor injuries and was soon released.
But it took crews all day and into the evening to draw the hazardous material out of the tanker. That was complicated by the fact that the valves were damaged in the wreck and parts had to be brought in. The truck was carrying propyl acetate, propylene glycol and an alcohol-based chemical.
The shutdown forced traffic to be diverted onto U.S. 40 and other routes and became a huge headache for Royals fans trying to get to Kauffman Stadium for the game against Houston. But motorists, for the most part, seemed to take the inconvenience in stride.
“I was out there at 6 a.m. and when we first realized we were going to have a pretty substantial closure I thought this was going to be a nightmare, just horrible,” said Kansas City Police Sgt. Bill Mahoney. “The people did really well. We dealt with a lot lower volume of traffic than we anticipated. That told me people were paying attention and taking alternatives routes.”
Mahoney said he could not remember a longer highway closure in his 24 years on the force.
Kauffman Stadium posted information about alternative routes on the scoreboard toward the end of the game. Most of the fans had stayed to see the Royals win rather than leave early.
The material was drained and the wreckage of the tanker truck was removed from the highway shortly before 8 p.m. and then crews began the work of washing the spillage from the south to the north into a containment area for disposal.
Department of Transportation crews began work with equipment that had been assembled early in the day and was standing by.
“It doesn’t appear that there was significant damage the driving surface itself,” Porter said. “Not enough that we have to do any sort of interim patching to get the highway open.”
The crash occurred about 4:45 a.m. as the truck was headed from southbound I-435 to westbound I-70.
The driver apparently took the ramp too quickly, causing the trailer to flip and skid across the highway, Mahoney said.
Part of the rig smashed through the median barrier, blocking a lane of eastbound I-70, he said.
One compartment on the tanker trailer ruptured and caught fire. The other two held, Mahoney said.
The driver got out of the wreckage with only minor injuries. He told police that his load had shifted, Mahoney said.
The trailer came to rest about halfway between I-435 and Manchester Trafficway.
The tanker was already engulfed in flames by the time firefighers arrived, said Battalion Chief James Garrett, a spokesman for the Kansas City Fire Department.
Once it was determined that the truck was carrying two flammable liquids, crews decided to use foam to contain the fire and allow the chemicals to burn off, Garrett said.