The crash happened around 1:30 a.m. in the northbound lanes of I-287, just before exit 26 for Mount Airy Road in Bernards Township.
The tractor-trailer, which was carrying lumber, struck a truck, careened through the guardrail and slammed through the sound barriers that line the right-hand shoulder of the roadway.
The tractor-trailer then burst into flames. Fuel and the lumber litter the highway, and an extensive cleanup project is expected to snarl traffic for hours and well through the morning commute.
For a time, only the left-side shoulder was open, and it was intermittently closed to allow emergency vehicles to move freely. The bumper-to-bumper backup extended at least three miles, and drivers were urged to find an alternate route of travel.
By 8 a.m., only the right shoulder was shut down, but rubbernecking delays persisted.