Milk and fish: how I-5 was shut down for hours, cleaned up
The problem started with a stupid and fatal mistake: A 63-year-old pedestrian attempted to cross the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 near Fife at 3:50 a.m., before the sun rose in the morning.
William Gladue was struck by two cars and pronounced dead at the scene, Washington State Patrol Soldier Robert Reyer said.
The fatal collision set off a chain reaction. Two semi-trailers caught in the sudden traffic jam were struck by a third semi-trailer near 54th Avenue East. A platform was carrying 30,000 pounds of fish. The other was carrying milk or heavy cream, which spilled onto the freeway, Reyer said. The driver of the third semi-trailer was cited for second-degree careless driving.
The resulting mess crippled Pierce County roads for most of the day. The highway had to be closed for 10 hours. The dangerous mixture of fish and milk created slippery conditions and forced time-consuming environmental clean-up.
Impact on traffic
Drivers in the area quickly found themselves trapped in backups as back roads and alternate routes absorbed cars looking for a rescue hatch.
The tires of some of the cars overtaking the crash resulted in the spillage of dairy products on the road along Interstate-5, extending the clean-up zone to 1.5 miles, Reyer estimated.
Heading north the highway was impassable until about 2:55 p.m. south of Fife to the King County / Pierce County line. Reyer said it took three hours to clear the collision with a pedestrian and seven hours and 40 minutes to clean up the dairy spill.
The collision with three semi-trailers blocked all five northbound lanes, Reyer said. Drivers were redirected to 54th Avenue East and side roads to King County, where they were allowed to re-enter Interstate-5.
Commuters saw an average delay of an hour to an hour and a half. Traffic was stopped and backed up to South 56th Street, about seven miles from the crash, Reyer said.
Many decided to avoid Interstate-5 and take State Route 167 in King County.
The choice created gigantic new safeguards on State Roads 512 and 167. The State Route 167 brake light lines have been stretched all the way to Jovita Boulevard East, near Edgewood, Reyer said.
An accident that closes the entire road for 10 hours is rare, Reyer said. In his four years as a state soldier, he said he has never seen a collision block the road for so long.
The dairy product made the roads icy.
“I guess the fat parts of the cream or the milk turned the road into an ice rink,” Reyer said.
Dairy products are toxic to fish. Cleaning crews couldn’t just wash the milk off the highway and let the storm sewers haul it into Puget Sound. Some of the milky grime had seeped into Hylebos Creek by the time the crews arrived.
Part of the spill into the creek could not be stopped, said Ty Keltner, spokesperson for the State Department of Ecology’s spill prevention, preparedness and response program.
“There is not much we can do to clean up such a spill. It is soluble in water. There’s no way to separate the milk from the water, it’s not like an oil spill, ”he said.
Keltner couldn’t tell how much cream was found at Hylebos Creek, which drains into Commencement Bay. Although he said the Ecology Department isn’t too concerned, it’s still a danger.
“It has no long-term impact on Puget Sound. It’s going to be diluted, ”Keltner said. “One thing people might think is, ‘How come it’s dangerous, people drink milk.’ Anything you throw into a stream in this amount will have an impact on the environment. That’s why we don’t want to make it worse. ”
The State Department of Transportation used sand to soak up the cream on the freeway, Reyer said. The fans have tied the sand and dairy together, making it easier to clean the street sweepers.
“It was done a couple of times to get that icy feel on the road,” Reyer said.
Some of the milk was washed away as runoff, so teams had to suck the milk or cream from the stormwater drainage pipes with “vactor trucks,” Keltner said. The truck grabbed the spill and pumped it into the tank. Seven storm sewers were cleaned, he said.
One of the semi-trailers also had a diesel fuel spill, WSDOT said. Reyer said the diesel spill was nothing out of the ordinary in a collision.
The fish were easier to clean: 30,000 pounds of fish were in boxes, and when the trailer swung to the left and cracked, few of them ended up on the freeway, Reyer said. The transport was reloaded into a dump truck and sent to waste.
“It was supposed to be food, but it was thrown away,” he said.