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Soot no longer underfoot

Donna Daniels

Glenwood Canyon highway repairs from a December tanker truck explosion are expected to be finished this month, and the bike path was reopened Thursday.

Cleanup and repair costs are expected to reach $150,000 to $200,000, said Bob Wilson, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

CDOT filed a claim against Iowa Tank Lines, which contracted truck driver Joey Kemper to haul the tanker on a run from Denver to El Jebel.

Thus far, the company has paid about $48,000 directly to CDOT. But Iowa Tanklines is also directly paying a subcontractor for the majority of the cleanup, Wilson said.

“They’ve reimbursed us for all costs through March,” he said.

The explosion and fire damaged the roadway, some of its high-tech equipment and the bike path, and left a layer of soot that must be removed, Wilson said.

Wilson said crews replaced an electronic road-conditions sign, cleaned out drains on the highway, cleaned smoke and soot from the canyon walls and roadway, replaced cameras on the west side of the tunnels and replaced a damaged portion of CDOT’s fiber optic line.

A section of the bike path was also damaged in the explosion. A gate and a portion of railing was replaced, Wilson said, and the path was reopened Thursday.

CDOT also hired an environmental consulting firm, LMH Environmental, to assess potential damage to soil and the river. The company has found no problems so far, he said.

A good deal of soot still needs to be cleaned up around the accident site. If rains wash it into the soil, that could increase the cost to remove it, Wilson said.

While all of the gasoline was consumed by the explosion, the fire blackened the canyon walls and melted holes in the pavement. A lightpole was completely blackened and guardrails buckled from the heat.

Hours after the accident, gas vapor that had collected under the bridge just west of the tunnel continued to explode.

“Once the project is completed, we’ll have an engineering inspection just to make sure,” Wilson said.

The accident occurred at 2 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2001, when truck driver Joey Kemper roared out of the westbound Hanging Lake Tunnel driving a tanker loaded with 5,300 gallons of gasoline.

The semi rounded the icy curve and rolled onto the concrete barrier. The tanker exploded in a huge fireball. Kemper’s body was found 100 yards west of the truck.

The December crash was the fourth in a little more than two months for Iowa Tank Lines.

This first was on Oct. 4 near Mount Vernon Canyon west of Denver. An Iowa Tank Lines truck caught fire after running off the right side of the westbound lanes and crashing into the rock embankment.

The second accident occurred above Arapaho Basin ski area on Oct. 31. In that accident, the tanker lost more than a third of its 8,000 gallons of fuel. The operator was cited for careless driving.

The third accident took place on Nov. 9 when another Iowa Tank Lines truck went off the shoulder of Interstate 70 and forced the closure of the highway for 10 hours. The tanker spilled 8,000 gallons of gasoline into Clear Creek near Dumont. Again, the driver was cited for careless driving.

Rick George, safety director for Iowa Tank Lines, said the company has made some changes in its safety policies, but declined to elaborate.

“They seem to be successful,” George said. “Our business has increased in the state. We’re operating as safely as any fleet out there.”


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