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UPDATE: I-94, Hwy. 65 crossing reopened after roadway repairs

A firefighter from Roberts or New Richmond stood by as spilled fuel from an overturned tanker continued to burn about 7:30 a.m., Monday. Steve Dzubay photo1 / 3
The remains of a fuel tanker and its cargo burns near the Roberts overpass early Monday. A trooper said a bridge pillar was moved and appeared damaged by the fire.2 / 3
The 5:22 a.m. incident gave Twin Cities television time to send video trucks to the Roberts exit to provide morning commuters live pictures as firefighters mopped up the scene.3 / 3

Interstate 94 was fully reopened at 5:52 p.m. Monday at Roberts after a 100-foot plus stretch of pavement had been temporarily repaired by St. Croix County Highway Department crews and inspectors had pronounced the Hwy. 65 overpass safe for traffic.

Firefighters and investigators were at the scene until about 10 a.m., trying to determine what caused a semi- fuel tanker to strike a support on the north side of the overpass, overturn and burn, killing the driver.

In a DOT release, Lt. Jeff Lorentz of the State Patrol said the truck carrying 7,500 gallons of fuel was traveling eastbound about 5:25 a.m. when it left the roadway, crossed the median and struck the north side of the Hwy. 65 bridge pier. The rear of the trailer separated from the cab and an explosion occurred that destroyed the semi and killed the lone occupant.

In a subsequent press release, Lorentz said the truck was owned by Kane Transport Inc., Sauk Centre, Minn. He said the driver, from northwestern Wisconsin, had just departed the Twin Cities area and was en route to central Wisconsin with a load of fuel.

The Patrol was assisted by St. Croix County sheriff's deputies and firefighters from Roberts, Hudson, River Falls and New Richmond as well as Roberts police and the St. Croix County Highway Department.

Both east- and westbound I-94 were closed between Hammond and Exit 4 were closed early Monday as firefighters allowed much of the spilled fuel to burn off.

St. Croix County Highway Department workers, under the direction of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials, began emporary repairs late morning and it's hoped both westbound lanes will reopen later Monday afternoon.

Weight limits on Hwy. 65 will also be posted at 40 tons, according to Chris Ouellette, regional communications manager. The bridge is structurally sound and was not compromised, however it is being replaced as part of an already scheduled improvement plan that will construct a new interchange at the location beginning this summer, she said.

Randy Gunderson, patrol superintendent with the St. Croix County Highway Dept. said the truck's impact chipped concrete from a bridge piling but a state inspector and another from his department said its integrity wasn't affected.

The highway pavement was another story.

Extreme heat from prolonged burning "baked the oil out of the blacktop" for about sixty feet, Gunderson said. Because there are no hot mix plants in the area currently operating, St. Croix Highway workers are scraping away damaged overlay down to sound pavement, after which a contractor will use a milling machine to "taper" good pavement before and after the burned area so vehicles can move through the depression it highway speed.

Once warm weather arrives, the area will be repaved.

An environmental clean-up firm was also on-scene, removing earth contaminated by spilled fuel. Once they'd finished, highway crews were to haul in clean fill and black dirt to restore the damaged median, Gunderson said.

He was hopeful most of the work would be completed by nightfall, Monday.

Meanwhile, both east- and westbound traffic continued to be rerouted off of the interstate at milepost 10 exit ramp and then back down the entrance ramp.

About 4 p.m., an accident involving a single vehicle driven by a woman with a young child was reported on the westbound detour around the crash scene. Emergency crews were called to free them from their crashed vehicle. Further details were not available.