The driver of a tanker truck is dead after the vehicle ran into an overpass bridge support column on Interstate 65 South in Franklin, causing a fire and a large explosion early Friday morning.
Northbound lanes of I-65 have reopened in the area, but southbound lanes remain closed.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation said lanes will be closed in both directions beginning at 6 a.m. Saturday while the bridge is removed. All lanes are expected to reopen no later than 2 p.m. Monday.
Peytonsville Road could be closed for months.
There are two bridges in the area of the fire - a new bridge that is being built and another that was being used by drivers. TDOT said they will have to tear down both bridges because of structural concerns.
"This is going to take some time. We want to make sure that we do this right instead of fast. We definitely don't want another tragedy. People's lives are counting on us to make the right decisions, so we're going to make sure that that's done," said Sgt. Charles Warner in a news conference on Friday morning.
Warner said the driver worked for Edwards Oil Company of Lawrenceburg Inc. out of Lawrenceburg, TN. The driver's name has not been released.
"This is a tragic situation to wake up to and our hearts go out to his family," said company representative O'Neil Stanford.
Warner said the truck was carrying unleaded gasoline when it ran into the column around 3:40 a.m., bursting into flames. Officials have not been able to confirm how many gallons of gasoline the truck was carrying.
The impact of the explosion was so large that it caused the truck to split into two pieces.
Police are investigating what caused the truck to run into the column. Warner said the driver appeared to be traveling at interstate speeds when the crash happened.
No other vehicles were involved in the crash.
Flames were so intense they melted wrought iron on the bridge. It was hours before crews were able to get the fire under control or even get under the bridge.
Michael Hopson, like dozens of other truckers, stropped at the TA Travel Center on Peytonsville Road on Friday morning to get some sleep. He was walking his dog when he heard the blast.
"It looked like a bomb; it was massive," he said. "The fire was massive, it was something like I have never seen before."
The blast was so powerful it shook Wanda Spears Camper, jolting her and her husband out of their sleep.
"The bridge itself was on fire above the road and literally falling, there were pieces, chunks falling," she said.
Commuter Les Moore described the accident as "terrible."
"It's a tragic accident that someone got killed in that," Moore said.
Warner said officers who responded said it was a truly horrific scene.
"We're coping with a lot of different angles to this case. Obviously, someone lost a loved one, and that's really, to us, the most important component of this. The traffic nightmare that it's caused is second to all of that," he said.
Warner said experts have confirmed that area water systems were not compromised.
Some Williamson County students will be dismissed early on Friday because of the crash. Middle and high school bus riders will be dismissed 15 minutes early to get buses on the roads faster. Students who drove themselves and car riders will be released after school buses leave campus. Elementary schools and Hillsboro School will dismiss at normal time.
TDOT held a press conference Friday afternoon with new details on traffic in the area.
Traffic will be rerouted through the exit ramps during this weekend's road closures.
TDOT is concerned they can't calculate whether the bridge can stand on its own or if parts of the bridge may fall on cars.
"It heated up and cooked that concrete so much that the steel inside of the concrete came unattached to the concrete," TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges said. "A beam doesn't work if the steel and the concrete aren't attached to each other."
Degges said the construction of a new, 11-lane bridge will take a "significant amount of time."
There is no estimate as to how much the bridge repairs will cost, but officials project it could be in the tens of millions of dollars. TDOT was currently in the middle of a $46 million expansion project on I-65.
Tennessee Commissioner of Transportation John Schroer said TDOT is working with the City of Franklin and Tennessee Highway Patrol. He added this is a critical issue for all departments.
Degges noted that the closures and bridge construction will have an impact on surrounding roadways.
This is the second serious tanker crash in the Midstate in just two days. On Wednesday, a tanker truck overturned on Centennial Boulevard and burst into flames. The driver sustained minor injuries, and approximately 8,500 gallons of gas and diesel fuel spilled, which led to several explosions. The water supply in the area was not compromised by the gas spill, and crews say wildlife won't be affected, either.
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