June 23, 2023 -PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Interstate 95 reopened Friday less than two weeks after a deadly collapse in Philadelphia, a quicker-than-expected rebuild to get traffic flowing again on a heavily traveled stretch of the East Coast’s main north-south highway.
Workers put the finishing touches on an interim six-lane roadway that will serve motorists during construction of a permanent bridge. Crews worked around the clock and wrapped up ahead of schedule, allaying fears the critical highway would be closed for many weeks.
Traffic began flowing in one direction a little past 12:30 p.m. Friday, according to live video from the site, and all lanes were open a short time later.
“This was a moment of civic pride for Philly and Pennsylvania. We all came together and we proved that we could do big things again in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Josh Shapiro said at a news conference at the site. “We show that when we work together, we can get s—- done here in Pennsylvania.”
After he spoke, a procession of fire engines — one carrying Philadelphia’s pro sports mascots — and police vehicles crossed the northbound lanes of I-95, christening the new roadway as hard-hatted construction workers looked on.
Motorists like Dean Chamberlain were happy and relieved, saying the loss of I-95 had created chaos on the roads. “The traffic has been horrible,” said Chamberlain, gassing up at a station just off the interstate.
The elevated section of I-95 collapsed early on June 11 after a tractor-trailer hauling gasoline flipped on an off-ramp and caught fire. State transportation officials said the driver, who was killed, lost control around a curve. There were no other deaths or injuries.
The closure of an important commercial artery snarled traffic in and around Philadelphia and threatened to raise the cost of consumer goods as truckers were forced to detour around the area. State and federal officials pledged quick action to minimize the economic impact and inconvenience.
To get I-95 operating again as quickly as possible, workers used about 2,000 tons (1,814 metric tons) of lightweight glass nuggets to fill the underpass and bring it up to surface level, then paved over to create three lanes of travel in each direction.
“We enjoy doing the work, getting things done like this and making sure that we get Philly back up on its feet,” construction worker April Allen said Friday, high-fiving colleagues as the first vehicles crossed the new roadway.
President Joe Biden joined Shapiro on a helicopter tour of the site a little more than a week after the collapse and called the first-term governor, a fellow Democrat, on Friday. In a statement, Biden said he was “proud of the hard-working men and women on site who put their heads down, stayed at it, and got I-95 reopened in record time.”
With rain threatening to delay the reopening, a truck-mounted jet dryer normally used to keep moisture off the track at Pocono Raceway was brought in to keep the fresh asphalt dry enough for lines to be painted.
The 24-hour construction work was live-streamed, drawing thousands of viewers online.
The temporary roadway was posted at 45 mph (about 72 kph), with no shoulders and relatively narrower lanes, and the Pennsylvania transportation department on Friday urged motorists on the high-speed interstate to slow down through that section.
The Philadelphia disaster echoed a similar situation in Atlanta, where an elevated portion of Interstate 85 collapsed in a fire in 2017. It took authorities there 43 days to replace it.
In Oakland, California, a collapsed highway ramp was replaced in 26 days.
In Philadelphia, the reconstruction took just 12 days.
“The speed with which I-95 is reopening today speaks to just how critical the interstate is throughout the region and along the East Coast for commuters, tourists and commerce,” said AAA spokesperson Jana Tidwell, praising the “collaborative, all-hands-on-deck efforts” of federal, state and local officials and the building trades.