"It's not every day that I-5 gets shut down in the heart of downtown Seattle," a WSDOT spokesman said. On top of the crash, winter weather caused wet roads for people's evening commute.
Seattle-area commuters were stuck in a monster traffic mess Monday after a semitruck carrying propane rolled over on southbound Interstate 5 and snowfall halted buses for the evening rush hour.
The crash around 10 a.m. closed the freeway in both directions between Interstate 90 and the West Seattle bridge for about eight hours, causing traffic congestion to spill over to surrounding streets, creating massive gridlock.
Authorities urged motorists to delay or cancel any trips into Seattle Monday afternoon. Around 6 p.m., crews reopened both northbound and southbound lanes, and cleared the crash site about an hour later. They cautioned drivers of lingering backups on surrounding streets.
“Even though both directions of I-5 have opened now, there’s still a lot of congestion that’s built up over the life of the closure,” said Marqise Allen, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). “Expect some more delays.”
On top of the crash, winter weather hit the Seattle area late Monday afternoon, causing wet roads for the evening commute. Officials rerouted all bus routes in east King County, King County Metro Transit reported.
That precipitation followed lower-than-expected temperatures in the morning, when a blanket of snow covered the area. Around 11:40 a.m., the National Weather Service issued a winter-weather advisory for the Seattle area, which covers the Eastside community and Everett, urging drivers to prepare for wet roads and delays.
“Be prepared for snow covered roads and limited visibilities,” the advisory says.
Wintry conditions are expected to resume Tuesday morning, when meteorologists expect another round of snowfall before 10 a.m. Then, they are calling for a chance of rain showers, according to the Service’s seven-day weather outlook.
Backup from the crash started hours before the snowfall. First-responders were called to the site around 10:10 a.m., when the Washington State Patrol (WSP) reported the truck overturned on southbound collector-distributor lanes south of Dearborn.
The driver told troopers traffic in front of him slowed, and he was unable to stop in time, plowing into four other vehicles, Trooper Rick Johnson said.
Emergency personnel worked for 40 minutes to help him out from the vehicle; he was stuck in the truck’s cab after it rolled, Johnson said. Medics then took him, along with two men in the other vehicles, to Harborview Medical Center with non-life threatening injuries.
Johnson said the driver of the tanker truck suffered an abrasion to his arm. No further details on their conditions were immediately available.
Multiple agencies, including the Seattle Fire Department hazmat team, responded to the crash. Seattle Police evacuated nearby people in homeless encampments under I-5.
Before getting the tipped truck on its wheels, crews had to transfer its fuel to an empty second tanker truck, Johnson said. Then, two trucks and Seattle firefighters slowly lifted the tanker upright and hauled the trailer off the roadway.
“It’s very meticulous,” Johnson said of the offloading process.
The hourslong emergency response affected drivers in the south downtown Seattle area and beyond. A few people were seen walking along the congested freeway. Some stuck drivers temporarily parked their vehicles and got out to examine the backup. And a taco truck caught in the jam, which opened for business while stopped from the closure, attracted a line of people.
“What do you do in a time like that? You got to make the best of it, right?” said Rachael McQuade, of Federal Way, who with her husband got stuck for three hours.
Allen of WSDOT said late Monday authorities appreciated drivers’ patience throughout the day as crews cleared the area.
“It’s not every day that I-5 gets shut down in the heart of downtown Seattle,” he said.
Monday’s crash is not the first time an overturned truck paralyzed traffic around the city for hours.
Last April, a semitruck carrying frozen crab tipped while heading northbound on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, spilling boxes of the shellfish and causing heavy traffic delays. Transportation crews spent more than six hours clearing the area.