A severe collision between a fuel delivery truck and a car led to an extensive fire on a major highway bridge in Connecticut on Friday. The inferno extended to land on one side and necessitated the temporary closure of Interstate 95 in both directions during the fire. The driver of the truck unfortunately lost his life, and several others were injured.
The accident occurred shortly after 11 a.m. on the southbound part of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, which spans the Thames River between New London and Groton. The Gold Star bridge comprises two steel truss bridges, with separate structures for southbound and northbound traffic.
The northbound lanes were reopened soon after the incident, with two of the southbound lanes also reopening early Friday evening. This alleviated some of the stress for drivers who use this popular route, which according to the state transportation commissioner, Garrett Eucalitto, sees over 60,000 vehicles a day.
During an afternoon press conference, Governor Ned Lamont and other officials announced that about 2,200 gallons of home heating oil was spilled by the truck, with some of it reaching the river. State environmental teams were deployed to manage the spill.
Governor Lamont described the incident as tragic, attributing the accident to a blowout of a tire on a passenger vehicle. This allegedly caused a collision with the truck which tipped over, leading to substantial flames and smoke, some of which reached the Thames River.
Videos from the location displayed the flames and smoke emanating from a large section of the bridge and extending to land on the Groton side. Groton’s Mayor, Keith Hedrick, said that flaming debris fell from the bridge, igniting brush fires below. Thankfully, no individuals on the ground were injured, and no buildings were set ablaze, contradicting initial reports from state police.
Once the fire was extinguished, a section of the bridge’s protective fence was observed to have completely melted, with burns visible on the road.
The mayor and fire chief of New London informed the media that the truck driver did not survive the crash, and that several people had been rushed to the hospital with serious injuries. However, Governor Lamont assured that the injuries were not expected to be life-threatening.
The incident caused significant traffic delays on Interstate 95, a principal north-south route on the East Coast. With the closest bridge over the Thames River situated about 11 miles to the north, a substantial detour was required.
Inspections carried out by the State Department of Transportation found no harm to the bridge’s steel structure, said Josh Morgan, a spokesperson for the agency. However, it was not clear when the remaining lanes of the span will reopen.
Morgan also confirmed that there was extensive damage to the fencing and travel lanes at the site of the crash. A pedestrian sidewalk running along the bridge remains closed.
The Gold Star Memorial Bridge, which is Connecticut’s largest passenger and truck bridge at a length of 6,000 feet, has been under significant renovation. In January, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited New London to announce the awarding of $158 million from a new federal infrastructure law to expedite repairs on the northbound span.
The U.S. Naval Submarine Base New London, located just north of the bridge, was unaffected by the fire. Submarines stationed at the base, which travel under the Gold Star to reach the ocean, continue their operations as usual, confirmed Nina Basantes, a Navy spokesperson.