A multivehicle crash on Interstate 90/39 closed the roadway and diverted traffic onto Janesville’s city streets for a second straight day.
The northbound lanes of the Interstate were open at about 10:15 p.m. Tuesday, but the southbound lanes remained closed, a Rock County Communications Center supervisor said. The supervisor said a Wisconsin State Patrol official told him they hoped the southbound lanes would open by midnight.
Interstate traffic was diverted onto Highway 14 in Janesville after a semitrailer truck and multiple vehicles crashed and started on fire on the Interstate on the north side of Janesville.
State Patrol Sgt. Bret Manke told The Gazette late Tuesday afternoon that the crash involved a semitrailer truck loaded with potatoes and multiple other vehicles. It happened at about 1:40 p.m. in the southbound lanes of the Interstate near the Humes Road exit.
Manke said the state patrol was still investigating what caused the crash. He said three people suffered what he called “non-incapacitating” and “non-life-threatening” injuries.
The crashes resulted in large plumes of thick, dark gray smoke visible from a distance.
A Gazette reporter who viewed the crash scene from a pine tree in the 1800 block of Green Valley Drive said it appeared four cars and a semitrailer truck were involved. Others in the neighborhood viewed the aftermath from trees, as well, because of 12-foot-tall sound barriers along the roadway.
Fire crews worked Tuesday afternoon to extinguish the semitrailer truck that was fully engulfed in flames. A Gazette reporter observed at least two cars in the crash that also were on fire.
Another car had crashed through a concrete barrier in the median, and a fourth car was overturned at the barrier.
Large chunks of burned debris had fallen into yards of homes along the Interstate.
The source of the debris was unclear, but a section of the trailer attached to the burning semi appeared to be melted and smoldering.
At about 2:15 p.m., occasional popping sounds could be heard coming from the crash scene.
The crash remained under investigation Tuesday afternoon. Police said in an alert that traffic likely would be detoured off closed portions of the Interstate’s southbound lanes until at least 7 p.m. Tuesday and possibly as late as 9 p.m.
The Wisconsin State Patrol and local police as of midafternoon had begun routing traffic off I-90/39 between Edgerton and Janesville. Authorities designated a detour that directs traffic off the southbound lanes of I-90/39 at Edgerton. The route continues south on Highway 51 to Highway 14 east through Janesville.
Traffic could reenter I-90/39 at the Racine Street ramp on Janesville’s south end.
Police said local motorists should expect traffic delays in and around Highway 14, Highway 26 and neighborhood streets surrounding those main roads on Janesville’s north side. People should avoid the area if possible.
The current expectation is for the reroute to last four to six hours more.
Cody Schroeder, a maintenance manager of apartments along the east side of Green Valley Drive, told The Gazette that he saw smoke coming from the Interstate and heard and saw what he said seemed like “fireworks” exploding in the air near the crash site.
Then chunks of charred, papery material began blowing off the Interstate and raining down into yards nearby, Schroeder said.
Schroeder said at one point, he heard a single car horn blaring on the highway.
“I recognized that sound from when I was in the Marines. I figured it was somebody trapped in one of the cars. I called in and tried to give dispatchers the exact location of that car horn so hopefully they could get to it faster,” Schroeder said. “The horn eventually stopped. I really hope that was a good sign.”
Tuesday was the second day in a row that a major crash led to closures of the busy stretch of I-90/39 through Janesville.
The Monday crash happened on I-90/39 near Milton-Harmony Townline Road bridge just north of Milton, police said. It involved three semitrailer trucks and led to heavy damage to the median on the Interstate—a mess that took emergency crews several hours to clean up.
One person was injured in that crash, police said.
Traffic Monday was tied up locally as thousands of cars were diverted on local streets around the crash area during what ended up being a 10-hour cleanup that rolled through the morning, afternoon and part of the evening.