ANDOVER — A perfect storm of traffic tie-ups plagued evening commuters on Interstate 93 yesterday, when a truck crash followed by a car fire caused major back-ups in both directions.
The traffic troubles began just before 4:30 p.m. when a tanker truck and trash truck collided on the northbound side of I-93 at Lowell Street (exit 43). The tanker, which was carrying recycled cooking oil, reportedly rear-ended the trash truck.
Traffic backed up for at least 7 miles, pushing well beyond the Route 93 exit in Wilmington, as northbound travel was first halted, then reduced to one lane while emergency crews responded, according to the state Department of Transportation.
The drivers of both vehicles were taken to Lawrence General Hospital, according to Andover Fire Deputy Chief James Dolan.
The crash damaged the tanker’s saddlebag tanks, causing 50 to 60 gallons of diesel fuel to leak onto the highway and into a storm drain along the side of the interstate, Dolan said.
Fire crews had to dike the flow of fuel and state Department of Environmental Protection employees used “Speedy Dry” absorbent compound to clean the highway.
Public safety officials were able to temporarily open all northbound travel lanes just after 6 p.m. Dolan said. But travel was again reduced to one lane at 7 p.m. to allow crews to remove the fuel and absorbent from the adjacent sewer drains, he said.
As the northbound cleanup was continuing, squeezing already-backed-up traffic further down the interstate, a fully involved car fire was reported just south of the scene on I-93 south between Lowell Street and Dascomb Road at around 7:05 p.m.
Scanner reports indicated that pedestrians were in the highway trying to direct traffic around the burning car as crews arrived at the scene. The fire was put out at 7:29 p.m., according to scanner reports.
The trucks involved in the afternoon crash were a cooking oil recycling tanker truck from Baker Commodities Inc., based out of North Billerica, and a trash truck with Republic Services, a trash receptacle service with Waste Management Services, out of Tyngsborough. The tanker truck sustained heavy front-end damage, and the Republic Services truck showed minor damage to its rear end.
Dolan said the tanker driver suffered a head injury and some lacerations to his hands and arms, but nothing severe. The driver of the trash truck was transported to the hospital as a precaution because he “was shaken up” by the crash, according to Dolan. Their names were not released last night.