freeway crash tunnel

Los Angeles city firefighters pull hoses out of the connector tunnel between the 2 and 5 freeways that was heavily damaged when a big rig flipped and burned in July. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / July 13, 2013)

A key Los Angeles freeway connector will reopen Friday, nearly six months after a gas tanker crashed and caught fire, sending flames shooting through the air and dumping 8,500 gallons of gasoline that sent a “burning river of fuel” down the L.A. River and nearby storm drains.

The underpass connecting the northbound Glendale (2) Freeway to the northbound 5 Freeway in Elysian Valley just north of downtown has been closed since July while crews worked almost around-the-clock to repair “extensive damage” to the tunnel’s concrete and support columns, Caltrans officials told the Los Angeles Times.

The fire charred nearly three inches of concrete in the 300-foot tunnel, exposing steel rebar and causing brittle chunks of concrete to fall from the walls.

For days, various state and local agencies worked to clean out debris in nearby tunnels to minimize the spread of the fuel. No one was injured in the crash or fire.

After several months of inspections, testing and construction of a temporary support structure, repair work on the connector began in November.

The repairs, which cost an estimated $16.5 million, included hydraulically blasting away and replacing damaged concrete, repaving the roadway, and adding new concrete barriers and graffiti-resistant paint.

Caltrans officials initially expected the tunnel to reopen by Christmas.

“We had a very ambitious schedule to begin with,” Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler said.

“We had a very bad incident within the structure, but we were able to pull all our resources very quickly and move past a lot of red tape to get the structure back open to the public as quickly as possible.”

Chandler said federal officials have committed to reimbursing the state for the cost of the repairs under a federal emergency relief program for highways.

-- Christine Mai Duc, Los Angeles Times

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