West Loop reopens after tanker wreck prompts hours-long closure

June 4, 2013 6:17:03 PM PDT
It's been a long day for commuters in southwest Houston. A tanker truck that overturned Tuesday morning left drivers frustrated and caught in big backups on the West Loop.

The wreck happened before 6am, but it took more than 14 hours to reopen the entire freeway.

The tanker started leaking a highly flammable liquid, so traffic was diverted around the crash at the West Loop and Westpark. But the backups spilled into nearby neighbors.

The sound of frustration filled the air as drivers sat stranded along streets in Bellaire. Drivers near the Loop 610 and Highway 59 interchange sat bumper to bumper. And those who tried to escape to side streets found more of the same.

"I'm about to call the builder I'm working for today and tell him we'll probably take the day off. By the time I get to Home Depot and head to the job, it's going to be another 2 hours probably," frustrated driver Ray Shepherd said.

The gridlock began just before 6am when a tanker overturned on the northbound 610 ramp to 59, spilling about 60 gallons of highly-flammable methanol. HAZMAT crews had to transfer the chemical to another tanker before moving the one that crashed.

Due to the risk of explosion, the Loop had to be shut down in both directions.

Bellaire police say the driver was sober when he struck the barrels dividing the 59 North exit from 59 South.

"All I can say as far as his statements is that he was trying to head down 59 South to head towards Corpus Christi. What caused him to hit the barrels? That's still under investigation," Bellaire Police Department Lt. Jeffrey Cotton said.

Houston firefighters contained the spill, while contractors worked to reinstall the barrels and a sign. But for miles, all drivers saw was gridlock.

"I'm trying to go to a mechanic right quick to get this car checked out and I thought I was being cute taking 610 instead of 59. I'm coming from Missouri City. Just my luck!" driver Chris Holman said.

Officials had hoped to open all the roads in the area between 1pm and 2pm, but that wasn't the case. The southbound lanes of the West Loop were reopened just before 4pm, and the northbound lanes didn't start opening up until around 6:30pm.

Meanwhile, the driver, 41-year-old Jamal Todd Augustus, was treated at a local hospital and released.

"He's lucky to be alive," Lt. Cotton said.

Police say Augustus will not face any charges in the wreck but will face traffic citations, including failure to control speed and failure to maintain a single lane.

Lt. Cotton says the single-vehicle accident is considered fairly typical, except for the hazardous contents of the tanker. The company is cooperating with the clean-up and investigation, and the driver is upset over the inconvenience the accident has caused. There's no word yet if he will be cited.

Stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest on the traffic mess.

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