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'Ambitious' repairs start on 5 Freeway tunnel charred by tanker fire

A $16.5-million project to repair a tunnel linking the northbound 5 and 2 freeways, which was charred by a fuel-tanker fire in July, will start Tuesday and adhere to an "ambitious and aggressive" construction schedule, officials announced.

The tunnel sustained severe damage after the tanker truck, which was carrying 8,500 gallons of fuel, overturned July 13 and caught fire. Beyond creating a massive traffic headache, "intense heat from the fire caused extensive damage to the pavement, walls, support columns, drainage and lighting," according to the California Department of Transportation.

Scheduled repairs include removing damaged concrete from the structure’s surface, spraying concrete slurry to fill voids, and applying epoxy injections to seal cracks.

Caltrans said it expects to have work on the tunnel repairs completed in time for Christmas.

“We understand that the closure of any part of the freeway system can inconvenience motorists,” acting Caltrans District 7 Director Carrie Bowen said in a statement.  “We have an ambitious and aggressive construction schedule in place to safely open this connector before Christmas.” 

Work on the project is slated to take place seven days a week during 16-hour work shifts, according to Patrick Chandler, a spokesman for Caltrans.

The contractor, C.A. Rasmussen, has worked on other infrastructure projects, such as widening Highway 118 and the Cross Valley Connector owned by Santa Clarita, according to the company’s website.

The tanker truck overturned when it hit a column, igniting the vehicle's load of fuel inside the connector tunnel. Caltrans workers moved fast to build a temporary support structure of wood and steel beams to prevent additional cracks from traffic and vibrations. Part of the new work will also include strengthening beams and the larger structure, Caltrans said.

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