Tanker accident snarls I-97 traffic 8,300 gallons of fuel leak onto commuter artery

January 05, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel and TaNoah V. Sterling | Andrea F. Siegel and TaNoah V. Sterling,SUN STAFF

Thousands of rush-hour motorists stewed in miles of backed-up traffic yesterday after a gasoline tanker overturned on Interstate 97 and closed the major route between Baltimore and Annapolis for most of the day.

The 6:15 a.m. accident in Millersville turned the commute into an impromptu road rally as many frustrated drivers negotiated back roads to reach work.

Others pulled out laptop computers and cellular phones, turning their idling cars into offices.

Two of three northbound lanes reopened just after 1 p.m. All southbound lanes remained closed until 5:15 p.m., when one lane was reopened, State Highway Administration officials said.

Last night's rush hour was not much better.

"It took me about 45 minutes longer than usual," Carol Williams, service associate for the United Way office, said of her 30-minute commute from her Millersville office to her Arnold home.

SHA crews were quick to respond to the accident, setting up electronic signs at major access points such as Interstate 895 and Route 32 to warn the 84,000 motorists who use the road daily.

Anne Young heard about the accident on her car radio at 8:40 a.m. By then she had been stalled in traffic by her Severna Park house for more than 15 minutes, wondering why she could not get onto I-97 for her trip to her weekly bowling league in Crofton.

"It took 50 minutes for a 15-minute drive," she said.

The problem spread and soon many roads in north and central Anne Arundel were snarled.

"Route 2 was just solid cars." said Joan Heid, an office manager for Bay Media in Arnold.

The ruptured tanker dumped more than 8,300 gallons of fuel across I-97, making it one of the largest gasoline spills in the state in recent memory.

"This is as big as it gets on the highway," said Alan J. Williams, chief of the Maryland Department of the Environment emergency response division.

A quick response enabled state and commercial crews to prevent the gasoline from polluting Severn Run, a trout stream that forms the headwaters of the Severn River. State police, highway and natural resources workers, the county Fire Department and the Coast Guard spent most of the day on the scene.

Crews used booms, barriers, vacuum trucks and seven truckloads of sand to block, siphon and absorb gasoline.

"We dispatched the bulk of our resources," said Craig Fadem, vice president of A&A Environmental Services, the Linthicum Heights firm hired by the tanker owner. Some 35 of the company's 50 workers were there.

MDE estimated the cleanup will cost $200,000.

The accident occurred south of the Benfield Boulevard exit of I-97 when an unidentified red pickup truck in a southbound lane cut off a blue Honda driven by Michael J. McCarthy of Millersville, state police said.

Mr. McCarthy lost control of the car and swung onto the right shoulder. The car veered back into the center lane, where it collided with the truck, belonging to Carroll Independent Fuel Co. of Baltimore, police said.

The truck overturned and slid a few yards across all three southbound lanes. Officials said fuel and fumes poured from five punctures in the tanker.

Police said they are looking for the driver of the red truck.

State police are asking witnesses to the accident to call the Glen Burnie barracks at 761-5130.

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