Fuel Truck Fire Collapses Highway Ramp

Early Sunday morning, before the sun was up, the sky over Oakland, Calif., turned orange. A tanker truck carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline crashed into a highway support on the complicated highway interchange nearby known as "the maze."

The truck's driver escaped with only minor injuries and managed to hail a cab, which took him to the emergency room. The flames, meanwhile, burned with such intensity they melted the steel supporting the roadway above, causing it to collapse.

"In the whole scheme of things, we're very lucky that no one lost a life in this particular incident, because with this tanker truck during normal driving hours this could have been a lot worse," explained a trooper on the scene.

The exchange feeds into the Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco and Oakland. The collapse is expected to disrupt traffic for months. Some 280,000 commuters rely on the damaged stretch of road each week.

The city has dealt with this before. Two bridges collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and transportation was in disarray for years afterward.

Infrastructure Woes

While experts say Sunday's collapse was the result of a freak accident, the mayor of San Francisco describes it as a wake-up call -- and engineers echo that. They say the nation's roads and bridges are in desperate need of an overhaul.

Highway engineers say the neglect of America's infrastructure costs lives every day. More than 40,000 people die in highway accidents annually. Road conditions, the engineers say, are a factor in almost one-third of those deaths.

The 46,000-mile of interstate highway system is now a half century old. A report card issued two years ago by the American Society of Civil Engineers said 34 percent of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

The report found 27 percent of America's bridges are structurally deficient and may require major maintenance or replacement. Those repairs could cost $10 billion a year for the next 20 years, a cost that seems small next to the estimated $54 billion poor road conditions cost motorists in repairs and extra operating costs.

The report also found the number of unsafe dams has risen by more than a third in the past two years, during which time 29 dams have failed.

And the engineers say the nation's power grid needs an investment of $10 billion a year over the next five years to keep up with the increasing demand.

Americans already spend 3.5 billion hours a year stuck in traffic. With road repairs lagging, the daily commute threatens to go from slow to slower.

ABC News' Neal Karlinsky and Bob Jamieson reported this story for "World News."

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