No timeline is yet available on the repairs and reopening of a section of Interstate 10 in Los Angeles that was damaged by fire over the weekend. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County and directed the California State Transportation Agency (Caltrans) to request assistance from the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program.
Caltrans structural engineers are investigating the structure, assessing damages, and will develop a repair plan to safely re-open I-10 as quickly as possible, according to the governor’s office.
Fire Under I-10
A fire in the early morning hours on Saturday broke out in a 200-by-200-foot storage yard beneath I-10. Los Angeles County Fire Chief Kristin Crowley, in a weekend press conference, said pallets, vehicles, and trailers were caught in the blaze. Winds pushed the fire across the street and into another storage yard. Eventually the fire spanned 8 acres.
The fire was so intense that fighting it involved 26 fire companies and more than 160 firefighters, according to published reports.
“Remember, this is an investigation as to the cause of how this fire occurred, as well as a hazmat and structural engineering question," Newsom said. "Those are the primary responsibilities now that Caltrans and our team face as we move to address the immediate questions."
The storage lot under the interstate is owned by the State of California but is leased. Newsom said the state was already in litigation with the lessee before the weekend blaze. He said inspectors had been out there consistently with citations before the fire, and noted that the lease had expired.
“They're in arrears. We believe they've been subleasing the space. And we actually have a court date in the early part of the new calendar year,” Newsom said.
The area near the fire is also the site of homeless encampments, which Newsom said he visited to clean up back in August.
Damage to I-10
The fire damaged a large number of roadway support columns — approaching 100, according to the governor. The fire affected about 400 feet of the bridge structure.
“What appears on the outside to be problematic may not be the real problem," Newsom said. "It's what lies underneath, and that's the bridge deck. That's the primary focus now of our investigation is getting into the bridge deck, looking at some of the wood structure that is part of that bridge deck in that center part and ... how that may have impacted that structure.
"Columns are a problem, but our ability to re-build that is a much shorter time period than the bridge deck itself.”
Newsom, in the same press conference, said more than 300,000 vehicles traveled through the corridor daily before its closure.
He said the approach to repairs will be safety first, speed second. Finding contractors will not be an issue, he said, because the state of emergency declaration allows for easier deal-making.
Officials suggest using alternative routes such as Interstate 5, Interstate 110, and state route 60.
Nesom said the state is not “naïve” in the reconstruction challenge and will be advancing similar best practices like the ones deployed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when part of Interstate 95 collapsed in June following a fire underneath.
“There are no rules and regulations that are hindrances to moving this operation forward. There will be none. Contracts are already in place,” he said.
Newsom added that the state has already identified more than 2 million pounds of steel available and ready to be moved to the site for reconstruction when needed. There is no supply chain delay there, the governor said.
“We're already assessing the broader supply chain questions, again, in a worst-case scenario as it relates to this incident,” added Newsom.
However, he said the situation in Los Angeles with I-10 cannot be compared to the Philadelphia interstate damage and collapse incident because the scale of the damage to the roadway in California is “substantially greater.”
The interstate was reopened in Philadelphia about two weeks after the collapse. Originally those repairs were expected to take months.