Southbound lanes of West Loop at Highway 59 reopen following big rig accident

June 4, 2013 1:40:20 PM PDT
Southbound lanes of the West Loop have reopened following a tanker wreck that closed the busy freeway for most of the day, but the northbound lanes remain closed at Highway 59.

Public enemy number one for commuters Tuesday morning was an overturned tanker on the West Loop northbound at the Southwest Freeway. The accident happened just after 6am, shutting down the highway and sparking several road closures during rush hour in the busiest section of the city. Confusion turned to frustration as hundreds, even thousands of exasperated drivers snaked through side streets to get to work Tuesday morning. Some finally resorted to walking.

The truck is nose down with the tail end of the tanker sitting over Westpark. Crews are stationed below in case fuel starts to leak down. Several major roadways are closed as a result, including Westpark Drive in both directions, making Tuesday morning's commute much more of a hassle than usual.

At around 6am, an 18-wheeler tanker carrying 6,000 gallons of methanol missed a turn from 610 Loop northbound to Highway 59.

HFD District Chief Bob Schlieter said, "He hit the barrels, which caused him to overturn. There were three small leaks. We were able to contain two of them. There is still one small leak at this time."

About 50 to 60 gallons did leak out, but has been contained. HFD HazMat crews have been on the scene, as have representatives from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Methanol is highly flammable and had to be offloaded before the truck can be turned upright. Bellaire police report that task was complete at about 2pm.

Officials had hoped to open all the roads in the area between 1pm and 2pm, but taht wasn't the case. At about 3:30pm, the southbound lanes of the West Loop reopened. Lt Jeffrey Cotton with the Bellaire Police Department says officials hope to have everything reopened in time for rush hour, with the exception of the ramp itself.

As for the truck driver, we're told he's a veteran driver, for about 16 years or longer, although he has only been driving for this company for a few months. His name has not been released, but his driving record was described as good. He was treated at a local hospital and released.

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

An investigation into the accident is underway. Lt. Cotton says there's no indication of speed being a factor, and 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 for the latest on the traffic mess.

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