Editor's Note: This article was updated June 19, 2023, with a new timeline for reopening.
Demolition of north and south lanes on a collapsed I-95 overpass in Philadelphia was completed Thursday, June 15, enabling work to begin on rebuilding the structure that was traveled by 160,000 vehicles a day, the governor announced.
The interstate section in Northeast Philadelphia has been closed since June 11 after a tanker carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline crashed into a wall when exiting the highway on Cottman Avenue, overturned and exploded. The fire caused the northbound lanes to collapse and severely damaged southbound ones. The driver, the only known fatality in the incident, has been identified as Nathan Moody, 53, who died of blunt force trauma.
Governor Josh Shapiro announced that after demolition, the rebuilding process will begin, and six temporary lanes would be opened for traffic to return to I-95. The plan, which he said would be the quickest way to reopen the roadway, involves backfilling the gap where the bridges stood and then paving overtop. That will enable opening six lanes – three in each direction – while a permanent bridge structure is built and eventually open all lanes in both directions. The work, the same as the demolition, will occur 24 hours a day seven days a week, Shapiro said.
“I can state with confidence that we will have I-95 reopened within the next two weeks," Shapiro said. "We are going to get traffic moving again thanks to the extraordinary work of those here and our incredible union trade workers.” A timeline for the permanent bridge replacement has not been set.
Aggregate with recycled glass for the backfill started being hauled to the site June 15, receiving an escort from Pennsylvania State Police to expedite its arrival.
Buckley & Company, a Philadelphia-based heavy highway contractor, has been hired for the reconstruction with an open-ended contract. Shapiro said the work will be covered by federal funds. After declaring the collapse a disaster, Shapiro was able to tap $7 million in funding. The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced $3 million in immediate aid for the rebuild.
The six lanes that are rebuilt with the aggregate fill will open first in the center and traffic will be transitioned to them, according to state Transportation Mike Carroll. New bridges will be built on the outer areas without interrupting traffic. After they are completed, traffic will be transitioned to the new bridges. The backfilled area will then be excavated so a new bridge section can be built in the center to complete the work and fully reopen the area.
Carroll said the new bridge would serve for decades. He noted that the bridge was only 10 years old and was structurally sound before the collapse. Intense heat from the flames melted the steal, weakening it to the point where the bridge fell in.