UPDATE: I-5 open in all directions after fuel truck overturned, traffic backups remain

Stacia Glenn

UPDATE as of 12:24 p.m.: Northbound I-5 lanes are now open.

UPDATE as 12:15 p.m.: Traffic backups from the three-hour closure of I-5 are expected to last for some time. 

Puyallup police report that backups are heavy on River Road, West Pioneer Avenue, Stewart and Main streets. Cars on West Pioneer extend through the entire city past 72nd Street East and Woodland Avenue East.

UPDATE as of 12:10 p.m.: The southbound I-5 lanes are reopen.

UPDATE as of noon: The State Patrol said it will reopen both northbound and southbound I-5 lanes by 12:30 p.m.

The southbound on-ramps and off-ramps to Port of Tacoma will also reopen. The northbound ramps will remain closed until the fuel tanker is righted.

Initial story: A tanker truck carrying 7,700 gallons overturned Thursday while trying to get onto Interstate 5 near Port of Tacoma Road, spilling fuel and forcing a closure of Interstate 5 and the evacuation of nearby businesses. 

The accident happened about 9:15 a.m. near the Port of Tacoma off-ramp. 

“He came in a little hot and didn’t quite make the corner to get onto I-5,” trooper Todd Bartolac said. 

The truck, which had three tanks of gas on board, overturned and began leaking fuel. The driver was not injured.

A Tacoma Fire HAZMAT team and officials from the state Department of Ecology have not been able to get close to inspect the leaking tank. It appears a single tank holding more than 3,000 gallons of fuel ruptured, according to Tacoma Fire.

Everybody within a half mile radius of the accident scene was evacuated.

“It’s a very delicate situation,” Bartolac said.

Danny Ventler, general manager of I-5 Motors on 20th St. E in Fife, said the State Patrol had ordered evacuations on both sides of that street, which runs parallel to the interstate. 

"They said it is leaking into the brush behind our dealership," Ventler said.

Ventler said he was told to keep the area clear "at least through today, possibly tomorrow."

Marc Sanchez, a parts salesman with Western Peterbilt, said about 20 people got the evacuation order at his business a little after 9:30 a.m. They set up temporary operations at the business's other outpost, on SR 99 outside the evacuation zone. 

Sanchez said traffic snarled by the wreck has wreaked havoc on his drivers who are out on business calls. 

"I got one driver who's in Seattle," Sanchez said. "He's not going to make it here anytime soon."

A second tanker truck is en route to pump out the remaining fuel from the overturned truck. 

In the meantime, northbound and southbound I-5 lanes near Port of Tacoma Road are closed. So is the southbound the I-705 ramp to northbound I-5.

The State Patrol is diverting drivers onto Portland Avenue but recommends northbound drivers use state Route 512 to state Route 167, which will connect back to I-5 and I-405.

Pierce Transit said it is experiencing delays due to the backup, especially on the 500 and 501 routes.

Some drivers are traveling the wrong way on I-5 and freeway off-ramps to escape traffic, causing more complications for troopers.