Major Traffic Nightmare Looms as I-95 Repairs in Philadelphia Set to Last Months

Traffic barely moves in a neighborhood near an elevated section of Interstate 95 that collapsed, in Philadelphia, Monday, June 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Isabel Soisson, Patrick Berkery, Associated Press

June 12, 2023

PHILADELPHIA — Drivers began longer commutes Monday after an elevated section of Interstate 95 collapsed in northeast Philadelphia a day earlier following damage caused by a tanker truck carrying flammable cargo catching fire.

Sunday’s fire closed a heavily traveled segment of the East Coast’s main north-south highway indefinitely. 

PennDOT officials said Monday that an exact timeline for the complete rebuilding of I-95 in the city between exits 30 and 32 should be available in the coming days once engineers complete their review. Also on Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) issued a disaster declaration to enable the state to immediately draw down federal funds and move quickly to begin the repair and reconstruction process. 

“My administration is in regular contact with our federal partners, who have pledged their complete support and assistance as we create alternative routes and rebuild I-95,” Shapiro said in a statement. “My administration is all hands on deck to repair I-95 as safely and as efficiently as possible.”

Shapiro said he had spoken directly to US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and had been assured that there would be “absolutely no delay” in getting federal funds quickly to rebuild what he called a “critical roadway” as safely and efficiently as possible. But Shapiro said the complete rebuild of I-95 would take “some number of months,” and in the meantime officials were looking at “interim solutions to connect both sides of I-95 to get traffic through the area.”

Both the city and PennDOT are providing online updates on detour information.

As of Monday, the following detours were in place:

Highway

  • I-95 Southbound: Route 63 West (Woodhaven Road), U.S. 1 South, 76 East, 676 East
  • I-95 Northbound: I-676 West, I-76 West, U.S. 1 North to Route 63 East (Woodhaven Road) 


Local Detour Routes

  • I-95 Northbound: Exit 26 (Betsy Ross/Aramingo Ave), Tacony Street, New State Road, Milnor Street, Bleigh Avenue, and Linden Avenue to access I-95 North.
  • I-95 Southbound: Cottman Avenue exit, Bleigh Avenue, and State Road to access SB 95 at Longshore Ave. 


SEPTA said it was operating three extra morning and late afternoon trains on its Trenton line, and adding capacity to regularly scheduled lines during peak hours “to help support the city and region’s travel needs” following the collapse.

AAA spokesperson Jana Tidwell advised people to avoid peak travel times. She anticipated that drivers will incur additional costs with the detours — “more gasoline, more wear and tear on their cars, additional tolls, in terms of leaving Pennsylvania into New Jersey and then back into Pennsylvania.”

Officials said Monday that the tanker truck contained a petroleum product that may have been hundreds of gallons (hundreds of liters) of gasoline. The fire took about an hour to get under control.

Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Michael Carroll said that the driver was northbound “trying to navigate the curve, lost control of the vehicle, landed on its side, and ruptured the tank.”

Pennsylvania State Police said a body recovered from the wreckage has been turned over to the Philadelphia medical examiner and coroner. Authorities are in the process of identifying the remains, police said.

The collapsed section of I-95 was part of a $212 million reconstruction project that wrapped up four years ago, Rudolph said.

Motorists were sent on a 43-mile (69-kilometer) detour Sunday, which was going “better than it would do on a weekday,” Rudolph said. The fact that the collapse happened on a Sunday helped ease congestion.

Secretary Carroll said the I-95 segment carries roughly 160,000 vehicles per day and was likely the busiest interstate in Pennsylvania.

Officials were also concerned about the environmental effects of runoff into the nearby Delaware River.

After a sheen was seen in the Delaware River near the collapse site, the Coast Guard deployed a boom to contain the material. Ensign Josh Ledoux said the tanker had a capacity of 8,500 gallons (32,176 liters), but the contents did not appear to be spreading into the environment.

The fire was strikingly similar to another blaze in Philadelphia in March 1996, when an illegal tire dump under I-95 caught fire, melting guard rails and buckling the pavement.

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