I-95 bridge reopens, less than two weeks after tanker explosion [UPDATE]

Temporary lanes are now open after crews worked around the clock

The Interstate 95 bridge in Philadelphia destroyed by a tanker explosion less than two weeks ago reopened to traffic in the noon hour today (Friday), with Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro presiding over a press conference this morning and workers putting final touches on a temporary span.

Construction of a permanent replacement bridge to get traffic flowing again on the East Coast’s main north-south highway is expected to take months, so the state Department of Transportation (PennDOT) elected to construct temporary lanes in both directions to allow traffic to return to the freeway while work on the adjacent span is underway. 

PennDOT created an information portal on its website for updates on the repair efforts. On Thursday evening, the agency posted an update saying that travel restrictions on streets surrounding the overpass should lift on Friday as three temporary lanes will open in each direction on I-95. The new lanes are in place, and PennDOT finalized median and barrier placement this morning before allowing traffic to re-enter the interstate. Temporary repair efforts were hampered this week by wet weather, which made curing asphalt and applying lane markings difficult. Pocono Raceway and NASCAR stepped up, providing one of its jet dryer trucks to aid in drying the surface. 


The bridge collapsed early on June 11 after a fatal gasoline tanker truck crash started a massive blaze beneath the bridge that thoroughly compromised its structure. 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 forced cars and trucks 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.

The 24-hour construction work was live-streamed, drawing thousands of viewers online.

President Joe Biden joined Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro on a helicopter tour of the site a little more than a week after the collapse and praised the design as “incredibly innovative in order to get this work done in record time.’’

"Based on the tremendous progress these crews made over the weekend and the time it takes to complete the remaining steps, I can now say that we will have I-95 back open this weekend," Shapiro said Tuesday afternoon. “We have worked around the clock to get this done, and we’ve completed each phase safely and ahead of schedule. That’s all due to the incredible coordination with our local, state, and federal partners – and thanks to the hard-working men and women of the Philadelphia Building Trades who are making this happen."

Permanent repairs are projected to take months with an estimated cost of at least $30 million, PennDOT said. 

The Philadelphia disaster echoed a similar situation in Atlanta, where an elevated portion of Interstate 85 collapsed in a fire, shutting down the heavily traveled route through the heart of the city in March 2017. It took authorities there 43 days to replace it.

In Oakland, California, a collapsed highway ramp was replaced in 26 days. And an I-5 bridge in Washington state collapsed in 2013 when an oversize truck hit a bridge truss; cars and their occupants were thrown in the Skagit River, but no one died. Two temporary prefabricated structures were put in place and the interstate reopened in 27 days. 

To view live video of the construction work via the state Department of Transportation, go to:

Includes reporting from the Associated Press.

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