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Insurance will pay out in Detroit tanker fires, but they still cost MDOT

Sep 8, 2015

The remains of the tanker that exploded on I-75 on August 20. The truck's driver was killed.
Credit MDOT

Exploding tankers have added another layer of headache to Michigan’s road woes this year, and the state is still totaling up the damage costs.

Three tankers have blown up in 2015 so far—all along busy interstate corridors in or just outside Detroit.

In March, a tanker carrying 13,000 gallons of unleaded and diesel fuel exploded on I-94 near the Detroit-Dearborn border.

In May, a tanker carrying 9,000 gallons of unleaded fuel burst into flames on an I-75 ramp near downtown Detroit. The ramp was closed for a week.

And in August, a tanker carrying 8,000 gallons of gasoline caught fire on I-75 in Lincoln Park, just south of Detroit. The truck’s driver was killed, and a stretch of road was closed for five days.

Matt Chynoweth, Metro region deputy engineer with the Michigan Department of Transportation, said MDOT is keeping track of all the costs associated with the explosions.

“And when we have a final tally of what we think the entire response cost is, we turn that over to the Attorney General’s office,” Chynoweth says. That office will file claims with the various motor carriers’ insurers.

Chynoweth said MDOT will probably be reimbursed for most of the costs incurred, but it depends on how the Attorney General decides to proceed, and how hard insurers fight a payout.

And there are limits. “For any single incident, we’re only allowed to recover a maximum of a million dollars,” Chynoweth said.

In the meantime, money to cover those costs, including contractors, equipment, and staff time, comes out of MDOT’s maintenance budget.

Chynoweth says the tanker fires are “a pretty big strain on our resources.”

“We’re a lot smaller manpower wise than we were even 10 years ago,” Chynoweth said. “Our budgets are pretty thin right now, and to add these types of things on is definitely a strain. That’s why now more than ever we need to seek compensation.”

While they haven’t finished accounting for the August fire yet, Chynoweth said damage costs for the three incidents could total more than $1.5 million.

The accidents are unrelated, and MDOT officials say the recent spate of three major tanker explosion seems random.

However, they say it’s likely no coincidence they occurred where they did. The I-75/I-94 stretches in and around Detroit see some of the most industrial traffic in the state and the nation.

Also, the state’s only oil refinery, the Marathon refinery, is located along I-75 in southwest Detroit.