Everything You Need to Know about I-95 Crash, Shut Down, and Bridge Rebuild in Norwalk

Learn more about the crash that shut down I-95 for three days and what the next steps for replacing the overpass in Norwalk are.

Everything You Need to Know about I-95 Crash, Shut Down, and Bridge Rebuild in Norwalk
A fire caused by a crash on I-95 on Thursday, May 2 damaged the overpass and shut down the busy highway. (Courtesy of Norwalk Police Department)

Note: This article was updated Sunday, May 5 at 11:15 a.m. to reflect updates from Governor Ned Lamont's office on reopening I-95.

I-95, the major highway running through southwest Connecticut, has been shut down since the morning of Thursday, May 2 after a crash involving a fuel truck, tractor trailer, and a vehicle started a fire that severely damaged the overpass near exits 14 and 15. 

“Thank God no serious injuries, but it has resulted in the closing of I-95 north and south and that is incredible in terms of the traffic jams happening there,” Governor Ned Lamont said in a press conference on Thursday, May 2. 

The roadway was shutdown Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The northbound lanes were reopened on Saturday evening, while the southbound lanes reopened on Sunday morning.

“It is truly amazing that in less than 80 hours from that fiery crash Thursday that shut down traffic in both directions, the highway again is fully open,” Lamont said in a statement. “It takes a village, and from the response from local and state police and fire departments to the environmental cleanup by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the demolition and rebuilding by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and contractors, everyone did their part.”

But the crash did cause significant damage to the Fairfield Avenue overpass, and officials said that the structure needed to be demolished. 

“The bridge was damaged, the heat from the burning fuel compromised some of the bridge, so that bridge is going to have to come down,” Lamont said.

Lamont also issued an emergency declaration due to the damage caused by the crash.

“The immediate repair and/reconstruction of the damaged highway/bridge is vital to the security, wellbeing, and health of the residents of Connecticut, as well as the residents of the states along the Eastern seaboard,” he wrote

Here’s a look at some of the pressing questions about this crash, its impact, and next steps.

What started the fire?

Around 5:30 a.m., on Thursday, May 2, a crash involving three vehicles occurred on the southbound side of I-95 around exit 15. Officials said that the passenger sideswiped a tractor trailer as well as a fuel truck, causing the truck to catch on fire. State police said that each vehicle had one person in it and there were no fatalities.

The crash occurred close to the Norwalk Fire Department’s main station and crews responded immediately. Still, it took over an hour for the fire to be put out, according to officials. 

“This could have been so much worse,” Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said, adding his thanks to the Norwalk Police Department, Norwalk Fire Department, and state police for their quick response. “We’re optimistic that we’re going to get back to normal.”

What was the impact on the region?

That section of I-95 carries about 160,000 vehicles each day, according to Garrett Eucalitto, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Before the roadway was reopened, officials asked people to stay away from the area to help alleviate the traffic jams. They encouraged the use of public transportation and remote work when possible. 

The roadway was closed for about 80 hours, according to officials, during which time local roads dealt with large amounts of traffic and backups, particularly on Thursday and Friday.

Why did the bridge need to come down?

One of the biggest issues with the crash is that it occurred under the Fairfield Avenue overpass and the flames from it caused damage to the bridge. 

“Gasoline can really heat up and cause the steel to deform,” Scott Hill, chief engineer for CTDOT, said at a press conference on Thursday. 

Eucalitto said that it wasn’t “safe to allow any traffic to pass underneath the bridge in either direction,” which is why the road had to remain closed. 

The structure suffered pretty significant damage, according to Eucalitto, who said that the “steel began to overheat and warp.”

“This bridge is less than 10 years old, but the damage was pretty severe due to the amount of gasoline that was in the tanker,” he said.

What’s the environmental impact? 

The crash involved a fuel truck carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline, of which about 4,000 gallons were burned or spilled, according to DEEP officials who said that there’s “no danger, no impacts to air quality” and “no impact to the Norwalk River or Harbor.” 

DEEP officials said that they also excavated soil in that area to mitigate contamination and have been conducting “vacuum recovery efforts at the storm water basin” along with cleaning of storm drains. The department said that it will be continuing to monitor the area for contamination to “ensure the safety of the local environment.”

What’s the timeline for reopening the road and replacing the bridge?

Crews worked around the clock this weekend to demolish the overpass, remove all of the debris, examine the roadway, and repave or repair any damage to I-95 itself.

“If all goes well, we should have two-way commuting back on I-95 as early as Monday morning, which is heroic work,” Lamont said. 

And that work in fact did pay off. The northbound lanes of I-95 were reopened on Saturday evening, while the southbound lanes reopened on Sunday morning.

While I-95 reopened within 80 hours after the crash, building a new bridge to allow Fairfield Avenue to cross back over I-95 will take much longer. 

“We will have to build a new bridge,” Eucalitto said, adding that there are also delays with procuring steel right now. He also noted that there wouldn’t be an opportunity to do “accelerated bridge construction,” which was done in Stamford in 2019, because there’s not a large enough area nearby to build the bridge that could then be slid into place. 

On Sunday morning, Eucalitto said that work has already started on planning to replace the overpass.

“This has been a team effort, and I can’t thank enough the CTDOT crews, contractors, and workers who spent the weekend ensuring the public could resume traveling on I-95 as soon as possible,” he said in a statement. “While the roadway is open, the work continues as we are planning how and when the Fairfield Avenue Bridge will be replaced.”

Engineers have been working throughout the weekend to develop preliminary replacement plans of the Fairfield Avenue Bridge. Eucalitto said that those initial designs are expected to be completed within the next two weeks.

Senator Richard Blumenthal said that there will be federal money available to cover the financial costs of rebuilding the bridge.

“There is Federal Highway Administration money there for emergency relief and we are going to be writing as a delegation to the Federal Highway Administration,” he said. “We’re going to be demanding money to cover all the costs, probably in the tens of millions of dollars, at least $20 million and we have every assurance that the Department of Transportation will provide this emergency relief so none of the cost is borne by Connecticut taxpayers.”