Repairing 60 Freeway overpass could cost more than $5 million


A week after a double tanker truck exploded and irreparably damaged the Paramount Boulevard bridge over the 60 Freeway in Montebello, Caltrans technicians set out to test soil samples needed before planners can design a replacement.

Crews knocked down the overpass after the truck, filled with 8,800 gallons of gasoline, caught fire Dec. 14 and came to a halt directly under the bridge, which straddles one of the busiest vehicle corridors in the nation. A 10-mile stretch of the freeway was shut down in both directions for about two days, forcing commuters to find other ways to get in and out of downtown L.A.

“It’s a huge commuting corridor, and everyone agrees it needs to be reconstructed as quickly as possible,” said U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Lakewood).


Sanchez said Wednesday that demolition and repair of the overpass could be paid for with federal dollars if work is completed within six months.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared the explosion and the resulting effects a state of emergency, which opens the process for federal reimbursement.

Officials said they also plan to determine whether the trucking company is liable for the explosion, in which case insurance proceeds could potentially be used to help cover costs.

Montebello Mayor Frank Gomez said transportation officials estimate the total cost of the work at more than $5 million and say repairs could take three to seven months to complete.

“It’s affecting hundreds of thousands of people right now, and it’s a very costly incident,” he said.

Initial timelines call for construction of the new bridge to begin sometime in late January or early February, Gomez said. He added that officials plan to build a bridge closely resembling the original, but with a few slight changes.


“They stated to us that it was going to be slightly higher and a little wider,” Gomez said.

During construction, the freeway will mostly remain open to traffic except during late night and early morning hours.

Before the explosion, officials with the California Department of Transportation said the four-decade-old bridge and the portion of freeway below it were classified as functionally obsolete because they were not up to current design standards.

Caltrans spokeswoman Maria Raptis said the freeway’s construction allowed only 2 feet of shoulder space for motorists when current standards require 4 feet of clearance next to the median and on the far right. The new bridge would be built to code, she said.

If state and local officials want to be reimbursed for costs, American Society of Civil Engineers President Andrew Herrmann said the replacement bridge would probably need to be a bit different than before.

“Functionally obsolete doesn’t mean necessarily that it’s in danger, but that it’s not up to current design code,” Herrmann said. “If they’re replacing the bridge, I don’t believe you can get federal funds unless you do make it to current design standards,” he said.


State transportation crews and contractors worked nightly from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. to demolish the bridge.

Caltrans officials said that the project would now be treated like most other freeway construction efforts — albeit expedited.

Thursday’s closures are scheduled to include as many as three lanes on the eastbound side of the 60 Freeway from Wilcox Avenue to Paramount Boulevard from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. There are no closures on the westbound side, officials said.

Authorities said they are still unsure what caused the fiery explosion, but they initially speculated that the truck’s brakes could have had a malfunction that sparked a fire. A Caltrans spokesperson on Wednesday said the investigation would not be finished before Christmas.

In a statement, state Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) said he is also eagerly awaiting the results of the probe.

“Should an investigation determine negligence by the oil company’s driver or trucking equipment,” Calderon said, “rest assured that we will be exploring options to hold them responsible.”


Los Angeles Times staff writers Sam Quinones and Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.