TEMPLE — Interstate 35 lanes, both northbound and southbound, were shut down near Bruceville-Eddy early Friday morning because two 18-wheelers crashed into barriers and one got stuck in the mud, according to Texas Department of Transportation officials. Traffic was backed up for much of the day.
Two truck drivers were taken to area hospitals where they were treated and released, Department of Public Safety Trooper D.L. Wilson said.
A third truck jackknifed, recovered and was sent on its way.
The accidents happened at 1:50 a.m. near mile marker 314, Wilson said. One truck heading south was hauling drilling mud when the driver lost control and his truck hit a concrete barrier, causing the truck to land sideways in the barriers, Wilson said. The first barrier that was struck, then went into the northbound lanes and was hit by the second 18-wheeler, which then crashed.
The area where the southbound 18-wheeler crashed has concrete barrier walls on both sides, said Jodi Wheatley, I-35 specialist for TxDOT, on Friday.
The crashes took out 15 concrete barriers that divide traffic in the construction area.
The other 18-wheeler became stuck in the bentonite, a fine clay used to make drilling mud. The rain turned it into a slick surface that rescue workers couldn’t even walk on, Wheatley said.
That wet clay made for a difficult cleanup for hazardous material crews because the mixture extended for 200 feet along I-35. Sand had to be placed on top of it to make it easier to clean up and remove, Wilson said.
Wheatley said the hazmat crew also had a fuel spill to clean up. A tanker truck was damaged badly enough to need a special tow vehicle, she said.
The northbound lanes opened at 11 a.m., but the southbound lanes remained closed until 2:30 p.m. so more of the wet clay could be removed from the roadway.
All traffic was moved onto the frontage roads for hours, causing traffic to back up all the way to Temple to the south and Waco to the north, Wilson said. The northbound lanes started to clear just before noon, but traffic was still backed up south of Troy for about 8 miles into Temple.
Northbound traffic was moving at 25 mph, but southbound traffic on the frontage roads was only moving at 5 mph, Wilson said.
“Another 15 troopers were brought in to help, as well as other law enforcement officials, but it’s a mess,” Wilson said. “And then we’ll add in the Friday afternoon traffic.”
The American Red Cross opened an aid station at Brookshire Brothers in Lorena to help the stranded travelers and crews working the accidents, Wilson said.
The interstate couldn’t be reopened until the barriers were replaced, which was a difficult task itself, Wilson said.
“The barriers are 30 feet long, and getting them there along with all the right equipment through the traffic was a problem,” he said. “The only good thing today is the 72-degree temperature. We’re lucky it’s not 100 degrees with vehicles sitting parked on I-35 and other roads and overheating.”
Ninety percent of the accidents in Bruceville-Eddy happen between mile markers 315 and 319, Stogner said. He attributes this in part to the 70-mph speed limit in that area combined with the road construction.