Tipped tanker closes Highway 59 in Milton
Ethanol and roundabouts—two things that have drawn the ire of Milton residents—collided Tuesday with less than favorable results.
Authorities were still trying to learn Tuesday how an ethanol tanker truck tipped over on one of the Highway 59 roundabouts at about 9:45 a.m. The accident caused thousands of gallons of ethanol to spill into a nearby retention pond and led to the closure of Highway 59 for hours as emergency and investigative crews dealt with the aftermath.
According to a news release from Milton police Lt. John Conger, state and local emergency crews determined it would be safer to let the ethanol continue to spill from the truck than to bring in equipment to stem the spill.
"Officials on scene have determined the safest course of action is to allow the ethanol to leak out naturally, rather than introducing any apparatus that could potentially cause a fire hazard. Ethanol is draining into a retention pond, which is adjacent to where the incident took place," Conger wrote.
Traffic was shut down along Highway 59 from Highway 26 to Vickerman Road on Tuesday while state and local emergency and environmental crews investigated and dealt with the accident, according to officials.
The truck still was draining early Tuesday evening, and officials kept Highway 59 closed through the night.
Milton Police Chief Dan Layber said authorities believed the bulk of the spilled ethanol was being contained to the retention pond, which it reached through a storm sewer.
"I think it's just getting captured into that retention pond, so we should be OK as far as that's concerned," Layber said.
Layber said the tanker truck was leaving the United Ethanol plant at 1050 Chicago St., Milton, and was making a turn around the westernmost of three roundabouts on Highway 59 when it tipped.
Layber said the leaking ethanol created an immediate explosion hazard.
A Milton firefighter and a Milton Department of Public Works told a Gazette reporter Tuesday morning that the accident area was dangerous, and authorities were considering a 500-foot area around the accident to be a "hot zone."
Police evacuated nearby businesses and homes in the wake of the spill, but authorities allowed people to return to those locations after crews determined there was no danger to anyone farther than 500 feet from the spill.
Officials cut off train traffic along the Highway 59 corridor, but trains were allowed to pass through by late afternoon Tuesday, officials said.
The Wisconsin State Patrol assisted in the investigation, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources assisted with an environmental impact assessment. Details were not available Tuesday.
Layber said initial investigations showed the tank truck's driver was not speeding or driving recklessly at the roundabout.
It's not clear if the driver of the truck had trouble negotiating the roundabout, although authorities indicated the driver had gone through the two other roundabouts on the same stretch of Highway 59 before the truck tipped.
Layber said the driver apparently was uninjured.
The Milton roundabouts see a large volume of large truck traffic daily for local industries along Highway 59, including United Ethanol, Freedom Graphics and Ott Schweitzer Distributing.
City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said the roundabouts have posed "some operational challenges for both the private sector and the public sector," including emergency and snowplow vehicles.
Last year, a semitrailer truck had an axle snap off in one of the roundabouts when its driver couldn't make the turn. The breakdown shut down traffic for hours, he said.
In a Gazette report in February 2012, one local trucking company owner said the Milton roundabouts are a nuisance for semitrailer trucks because drivers must slow to 10 miles per hour or slower to safely negotiate them.
The trucking company owner said drivers can wind up with scrubbed-up tires and other vehicle damage because of the narrowness of the lanes and the tight turn radius of the roundabouts.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has said that its roundabouts meet federal regulations for lane width and turn radius for large vehicles.
Still, the DOT agreed last year to a city request to modify Milton's roundabouts. According to DOT officials, the changes would shrink the size of the roundabouts' center islands and expand the size of "truck apron" inside lanes in roundabouts that semitrailer trucks and emergency vehicles can drive on.
Schuetz said he believes the upgrades could come next year when the DOT is paving the Highway 26 bypass.