GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. – The Colorado Department of Transportation hopes to have all lanes of traffic on Interstate 25 through the Tech Center open for the Thursday morning commute.
Both directions were shut down for several hours Wednesday afternoon after a fuel tanker heading northbound on I-25 near Belleview slammed into the median, causing a raging fireball and thick, black smoke to fill the air.
A witness told Denver7 the driver of the truck was pulled from the cab while his leg was engulfed in flames. The victim was taken to Swedish Medical Center for treatment. The extent of his injuries is not known.
The explosion caused what CDOT described as an "epic" backup on one of the most heavily-used corridors in the metro area. CDOT cameras showed hundreds of cars stopped along the interstate as drivers got out of their cars and waited for traffic to resume.
Hours later, crews reopened at least two southbound lanes just in time for the evening commute. However, all five northbound lanes of I-25 between Orchard Road and Belleview Avenue remains closed and won't likely reopen until Thursday morning.
The northbound closures will stay in place overnight because officials are concerned about the damage to the road surface. CDOT says heat from the fire has caused damage mainly to the pavement and median barrier. More than 70 crew members will be working to repair the road through the night, officials added.
Making progress on I-25 NB repairs. Milling the burned pavement so it can be replaced with new. pic.twitter.com/x2jlmoVhRZ
— CDOT (@ColoradoDOT) June 1, 2017
How to avoid the traffic mess
It's recommended that commuters both in the city seeking to get home and seeking to get to the center of Denver go as far around the scene as possible. CDOT is encouraging drivers to avoid I-25 from East Yale Avenue to East County Line Road.
Alternate routes include South Santa Fe Drive, South Parker Road, Broadway and C-470/E-470. CDOT says E-470 tolls will not be collected during this time. Traffic will likely be heavy on these routes, and commuters should expect significant delays.
Denver7 Investigator Tony Kovaleski experienced those delays firsthand. Leaving at 4:03 p.m. from Colorado Boulevard, Kovaleski traveled on I-25 southbound to County Line Road, which took 23 minutes.
Northbound took more than twice as long to negotiate, Kovaleski said. Starting from County Line Road, he was detoured onto side streets until he got to Belleview, where traffic was routed back onto the interstate. The northbound trip took 72 minutes.
RTD light rail shut down
RTD had shut down lines E, F and R while crews contained the fire. Service resumed normal operations around 3:30 p.m. Greenwood fire officials at first told Denver7 that the overhead lines that provide power to the trains had melted under the extreme heat, but RTD later confirmed that the lines were not affected.