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West Shore ramps open, I-81 still closed by tanker fire - abc27 WHTM

West Shore ramps open, I-81 still closed by tanker fire

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

PennDOT has reopened two Interstate 81 ramps on the West Shore in order to ease some of the traffic congestion caused by a massive tanker fire near Harrisburg.

The ramps at the I-81 interchanges with Route 944 (Exit 61/Wertzville Road) and with Route 11/15 (Exit 65) were opened early Friday.

Reopening the ramps allows West Shore drivers to cross the George Wade Memorial Bridge and get into Harrisburg, but go only as far as Exit 67A (Cameron Street) for eastbound Route 22 into Harrisburg.

The northbound lanes of I-81 remain closed at the Route 22/322 interchange.

In addition, the I-81 ramp to Front Street at Exit 66 will remain closed, PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny said.

For those approaching the Harrisburg area on I-81 North, the interstate remains closed at Exit 59 (Route 581). The detour is Route 581 East to I-83 North and back to I-81 North.

Southbound I-81 remains closed at Exit 70, the I-83 split. The detour is I-83 South to westbound Route 581 and back to southbound I-81.

Also closed is the ramp from southbound I-81 to eastbound Route 22 toward Harrisburg, as well as Route 22 East through the I-81 Exit 67 interchange.

Penny said the Route 22 bridge was seriously damaged by the tanker fire on the bridge below, is no longer safe, and the spans over both northbound and southbound I-81 will be demolished and removed.

The work, already underway, is expected to take several days to complete, and traffic will not be allowed on I-81 until the job is finished.

PennDOT plans to build crossovers in the Route 22 median and make the westbound roadway one lane in each direction.

The work will take a few days to accomplish, especially if rain interferes, but will allow one lane for Route 22 East through the interchange into Harrisburg and one lane for westbound traffic through the interchange heading toward Dauphin, Penny said.

Finally, the deck of the bridge on the ramp from I-81 North to Route 22/322 West, where the tanker truck overturned and caught fire, was destroyed and needs to be replaced, Penny said.

PennDOT plans to remove the deck of the bridge span over I-81 over the next few days, but it may also be necessary to remove the entire superstructure of the bridge, including the beams, and traffic will not be allowed on I-81 under the bridge until this is accomplished, Penny said.

Officials said that the repairs could take at least two months.

Even though the eastbound Route 22 bridge over I-81 into Harrisburg is closed, eastbound drivers on Route 22 can access the ramps for both northbound and southbound I-81 in the I-81 Exit 67 interchange.

Route 22 West through the I-81 Exit 67 interchange is open and access to northbound and southbound I-81 from westbound Route 22 is available, so traffic leaving the Harrisburg area by Route 22 West can access northbound and southbound I-81 and westbound Route 22/322 toward Dauphin and State College.

The ramp from I-83 North to I-81 South is open, allowing drivers headed to westbound Route 22/322 to continue to the I-81 Exit 67 interchange and take the ramp to westbound Route 22/322 toward Dauphin and State College.

To further alleviate traffic congestion in the Harrisburg area, the Pennsylvania Turnpike has begun waiving tolls between the Harrisburg East and Carlisle interchanges.

The toll-free passage is for only those drivers who enter and exit at the Harrisburg East and Carlisle interchanges. Drivers will be charged the toll if they get on or off at any other interchange, and the waiver will remain in place only while Interstate I-81 is closed.

Governor Tom Corbett said Thursday that the damage caused by the fire is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars. He said the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency was preparing a disaster declaration to request federal aid, which would also allow PennDOT to expedite repairs.

State police said the crash occurred at 6:10 a.m. when the tanker, fully loaded with diesel fuel, overturned and caught fire.

The driver, identified by police as 52-year-old Thomas Uecker, of Dover, was able to escape the truck with minor burns. He was taken to Harrisburg Hospital.

The truck was coming from Carlisle and is registered to Tameric Enterprises LLC, according to police. No other vehicles or people were involved.

The crash is still under investigation.

The tanker was on fire for about 45 minutes and burned so intensely that it melted guide rails and caused the concrete road surface to explode, officials said.

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