Oakland County Executive David Coulter gets briefed July 14 at the site of the July 12 fuel tanker fire on I-75 in Troy by Michigan Department of Transportation engineer Adam Wayne, Troy Fire Chief Chuck Riesterer, Troy Department of Public Works Director Kurt Bovensiep, and Road Commission for Oakland County Public  Information Officer Craig Bryson.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter gets briefed July 14 at the site of the July 12 fuel tanker fire on I-75 in Troy by Michigan Department of Transportation engineer Adam Wayne, Troy Fire Chief Chuck Riesterer, Troy Department of Public Works Director Kurt Bovensiep, and Road Commission for Oakland County Public Information Officer Craig Bryson.

Photo provided by Oakland County Executive Office


Remediation efforts underway in wake of I-75 tanker fire

Highway expected to open six weeks after crash

By: Jonathan Shead | Metro | Published July 23, 2021

  Troy Fire Department firefighters spray a fuel tanker after it crashed and burned along Interstate 75 July 12.

Troy Fire Department firefighters spray a fuel tanker after it crashed and burned along Interstate 75 July 12.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

TROY — A fuel tanker that caught fire and closed down a portion of Interstate 75 between Crooks and Rochester roads the afternoon of July 12 now has local, county and state agencies working to remediate the site, repair the damage and clean up any environmental impacts left behind.

The New Haven-based Bazco Oil Co. fuel tanker, driven by a 46-year-old St. Clair Shores man, exploded into flames around 1:15 p.m. when the tanker veered from the center lane of the freeway into the center median wall. Billows of black smoke could be seen from high rises around the area, and the aftermath has left nearly 150 feet of pavement and 300 feet of barrier wall charred, Michigan Department of Transportation spokesperson Robert Morosi said.

The fuel tanker was carrying an estimated 14,000 gallons of fuel — 10,000 gallons of gasoline and 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel — when it crashed. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, Troy Police Department Public Information Officer Sgt. Jason Clark previously told C & G Newspapers.

“By the time the fire was put out, the Troy Fire Department was able to extract about 1,500 gallons that were still in the tanker that did not burn because of the foam and everything that was used to put out the fire,” Morosi added.

As of July 21, the right lanes traveling north and south on I-75 between Crooks and Rochester roads were the only lanes open to drivers as crews worked to rebuild the left lanes. The Big Beaver Road entrance to southbound I-75 and the Rochester Road entrance to northbound I-75 will remain closed until all lanes of the freeway reopen.

The remediation project is expected to cost MDOT $1.5 million and will take up to six weeks to repair. MDOT plans to seek a recoupment of some costs from Bazco’s insurance carrier, Morosi said.

A representative from Bazco declined to comment.


Repaving a new roadway
The chalky, brittle remains left in the aftermath of this fire put MDOT in a unique predicament of repaving a roadway that was just reconstructed in 2019-2020 as part of the I-75 Modernization Project.

“Those drivers have gone through a lot in the last two years,” Morosi said, and because of this fire, drivers will have to endure even more. After excavating the damaged pavement, crews will have to lay new concrete and let it cure for seven to 14 days, depending on the weather.

Despite some anticipated discontent, Morosi said MDOT has a responsibility to do it right.  

“We understand the desire to have this repaired as expediently as possible. However, we’re not going to cut corners. We’re going to make sure the pavement we put in there is as stable and will have the life duration that the original pavement did,” he said. “Are people not going to be happy with that? Sure, but the fact of the matter is, it’s part of our responsibility as the state transportation department to make sure if it’s the taxpayers investing in that roadway, that’s the product they get.”

Oakland County Executive David Coulter, who visited the site July 14 to be briefed on the remediation efforts, said in a statement that he believes crews are working as fast as they can to repair the highway. “I feel confident that it’s moving as quickly as possible and that the Road Commission and other agencies are doing what they can to mitigate the additional congestion that’ll occur over the next couple weeks. I appreciate residents’ patience as we do this right,” he said.

Rebuilding something that’s just been rebuilt is never fun, but Morosi is relieved no one was hurt during the incident.

“I think we look at it as the fact that no one was killed. It was a single-vehicle accident. No one else suffered any injuries because of it. My understanding is the driver survived,” he said, adding that the median wall did its job. “We take a little bit of pride in that, that the infrastructure that was constructed did its job and saved more lives.”

The driver of the fuel tanker was taken to the Detroit Medical Center after the crash to be treated for minor burns along the left side of his body, Clark reported initially.

Updated safety design standards were implemented into the reconstruction of the road during the modernization project, like treating the pavement with a high-friction surface solution and extending the length of curves on the highway, Mororsi said, and those will be implemented again in the rebuild.
    

Protecting the public’s health
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Public Information Officer Jill Greenberg said the environmental cleanup efforts in response to the gas spilled at the site are “progressing as planned.”

“We’re on scene right now assisting with the environmental response, and that includes cleanup of contaminants and drainage ditches along the northbound and southbound lanes of I-75,” she said. “These are precautionary measures in an effort to protect the environment and public health. We’re out providing an environmental response at the scene and putting these booms there.”

Booms are long, temporary-use tubes that absorb contaminants spilled, protect the environment and assist in an environmental recovery response. EGLE has placed several booms in the northbound and southbound drainage ditches of I-75 at the scene of the crash, replacing them as needed, Greenberg said. Three additional booms were placed at North Troy Technology Park, near John R and 14 Mile roads, because an additional sheen of oil was found near the drainage system there.

“Right there, an undetermined amount of fuel entered the ditches on the north and southbound lanes of I-75,” Greenberg told C & G Newspapers July 15, three days after the incident.

“Fire crews used a non-PFAS-containing foam,” she added, when asked if there was concern that the Class B foam used by the Troy Fire Department to extinguish the fire contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which have been linked to adverse health effects. “As a precaution, EGLE is testing runoff from the north ditch.”

Crews will remove the topsoil from the affected drainage ditches along the highway and test the soil until they reach a level that is safe, Morosi said. “Until they test it to what EGLE finds is safe, that’s where they’ll excavate down to and put in new topsoil and start the remediation process that way.”

There is nothing nearby residents should be worried about, in terms of public health and safety, Greenberg added

“Containing the fuel where it is and not letting it get into sewers and spread from the site is an important reason why EGLE, as well as Troy Fire Department and DPW, were there,” Coulter said. “The collaboration around the building of the dams to contain the fuel makes me feel better about the safety of the residents and businesses nearby.”