Collapsed Section of I-95 to Reopen in PA

FRIDAY, JUNE 23, 2023

On Tuesday (June 20), Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro announced that a portion of Interstate 95 that collapsed earlier this month in Philadelphia will officially reopen this weekend after crews with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and union construction workers made emergency repairs.

The announcement comes shortly after a previous report from the governor, in which he had initially predicted the work would be done two weeks after the incident.

Now, the destroyed section of the freeway over the Tacony neighborhood of northeast Philadelphia will reportedly reopen ahead of schedule thanks to a temporary bridge built by union construction workers at Buckley and Co.

“I think that speaks to the fact that we haven’t always had a can-do attitude around here, that we can get big things done,” Shapiro told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Collapse Background

On June 11, a tanker truck carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline took an off-ramp and crashed into a wall and caught fire, causing damage to a portion of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia. According to reports, the truck landed on its side, hit the wall and ignited the fire sometime around 6:20 a.m.

Pennsylvania State Police reportedly recovered one body from the collapse; at the time, authorities had not provided any information on the deceased, though they stated that they are in the process of identifying the remains as crews also sifted through the rubble.

According to reports, the tanker was on its way to a local Wawa for a gasoline delivery when the crash occurred. At the time of the collapse, there were no immediate reports of other injuries.

The following Monday, Governor Shapiro issued a disaster declaration, allowing the state to dip into federal funds and “cut red tape” to expedite needed repairs.

According to reports, the northbound lanes collapsed and the southbound lanes were damaged due to the intensity of the fire. Shapiro stated that the lanes were “not structurally sound to carry any traffic.”

Officials report that demolition should take somewhere between four to five days, though the damage to part of the East Coast’s “primary highway” may take months to repair.

Investigators were reportedly monitoring emergency response while crews sift through rubble in search of the tanker truck. Jennifer Homendy, National Transportation and Safety Board Chair, said that finding the truck is a focus of the investigation.

At the time, all lanes of I-95 were reported to be closed between the Woodhaven and Aramingo exits. Surrounding streets were also reportedly closed for emergency response purposes. The roadway is reportedly one of the busiest interstates in the region, having around 160,000 vehicles pass through Philadelphia each day.

Replacement Bridge Construction

On June 14, Shapiro announced plans to construct a temporary roadway and bridge to replace the damaged span of I-95, tapping Philadelphia-based contractor Buckley and Co. to perform the work.

According to reports, New Jersey-based C. Abbonizio Contractors was first able to demolish the damaged portions of the bridge and roadway in just four days.

Then, contractors reportedly began pouring foamed glass aggregate into the roadway’s gap to build to the surface level of I-95. Reportedly, 2,000 tons of lightweight glass nuggets will be trucked in for this process, while crews have reportedly been working 24 hours a day until the “critical commercial artery” can be reopened.

The nuggets are reportedly being used to avoid supply-chain delays for other building materials. The glass aggregate is being supplied by AeroAggregates of North America, a company that mills glass bottles and jars into powder before heating it into a foam for small, grey nuggets that are “as light as Styrofoam.”

Reports estimate that around 100 box-truck loads will ultimately be needed to haul over the 10,000 cubic yards of glass aggregate needed for the project.

PennDOT was reportedly the first state to use this company’s glass after it was created in 2017. It is now reportedly approved for use in 23 states across the country.

Shapiro has also issued an emergency declaration to free up $7 million in state money for the repairs and has eased regulations that could have potentially slowed the infrastructure project.

Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration reportedly announced $3 million in “quick release” Emergency Relief funds to use for repairs. The funding will reportedly go towards the following:

  • Helping maintain emergency operations and detour routes;
  • Demolishing damaged structures;
  • Making emergency repairs to restore necessary traffic; and
  • Preliminary engineering and design for permanent restoration of the damaged section of I-95.

Engineers working on the project have reportedly been using accelerated bridge construction (ABC) techniques, which the report states were developed to coordinate steps for the building process in order to slash construction times.

Sherif El-Tawil, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, said that by using “the lego method” with ABC, crews could precast girders and concrete decking panels in a separate location before bringing them to the site for installation.

“In various cases I’ve been involved in, though it seems like a really big effort ... it’s usually done quicker than in months. Our motto is get in, get out and stay out,” El-Tawil told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Other factors that have reportedly helped to speed up the timeline include the Biden Administration’s support, as they guaranteed all the federal money possible for the reconstruction. The administration has made infrastructure the “signature issue” of Biden’s term and has been involved in the process since the initial incident occurred.

Reopening Announcement

The news of the weekend reopening came with additional information that contractors will reportedly need a 12-hour window with no bad weather for the pavement of this temporary bridge to cure and then stripe the roadway.

In response to this, Governor Shapiro announced that the Pocono Raceway will reportedly be supplying the site with their jet dryer, a truck equipped with a helicopter turbine in its bed, to help with the drying process. With this help, workers will reportedly be able to work through the rain, helping to speed up the construction process. 

Shapiro has not yet given an estimated timelines for the completion of the permanent rebuilding, though according to reports, experts claim that PennDOT built the damaged bridge less than 10 years ago and has the advantage of previously drawn-up design plans.

Meanwhile, a live feed of the construction site is available on PennDOT's website.


Tagged categories: Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC); Accidents; Bridges; Bridges; Construction; Department of Transportation (DOT); Fatalities; Health and safety; Infrastructure; NA; North America; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Roads/Highways; Safety

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