Update: West Loop reopens after tanker spill causes traffic nightmare
Just when you thought Houston traffic couldn't get any worse — a fuel tanker added itself to the Friday rush hour mix, creating a near historic traffic mess that stretched into the night.
Around 7:45 p.m. all traffic lanes were reopened on the West Loop, although the Bellaire exit remains closed.
For much of the day and into the evening rush hour, 610 was closed from Highway 59 to Beechnut in both directions.
Almost 7,000 gallons of gasoline was inside the tanker. The tanker overturned on the feeder road to the 610 West Loop at Bellaire, causing a shutdown of the West Loop and forcing evacuations of nearby businesses.
A CultureMap eyewitness saw a highway crew frantically putting up cones to stop the traffic in mid-afternoon. This witness thought it was strange that the crew was doing this without any police cars visible. "It looked like they were closing it down for construction," the witness said.
Instead, the 610 Loop was being closed because of all the flammable fuel coming out of the tanker. Details remain sketchy on how the accident actually occurred, but the tanker ended up completely on its side. As the fuel continued to come out the tanker, the police made the decision to evacuate several local businesses. A temporary shelter was set up in Bellaire across 610 from the overturned tanker on the feeder road. Texas Department of Transportation officials told khou that it could be several hours before 610 reopens.
The tanker actually overturned around 11 a.m., but the police didn't make the decision to close off 610 until much later, when it became apparent that the spill of hundreds of gallons of gas was becoming more and more potentially dangerous. Witnesses describe cones being set up to block off 610 closer to 3 p.m. By 4:30 p.m., the traffic backups were already starting to become legendary.
One driver told CultureMap that it took him nearly an hour and a half to go six miles. "It's getting worse," the driver said, describing a scene of complete highway chaos.