Three days after a bridge carrying Interstate 95 was destroyed by a tanker truck fire in Philadelphia, officials shared their plans to rebuild the bridge and reopen the highway.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) said during a press conference June 14 that the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation has hired Philadelphia-based Buckley & Co. Inc. to build a temporary roadway in order to reopen the highway as soon as possible, and to build the permanent replacement bridge as well.
“This approach will allow us to avoid delays due to shipment and supply chain issues, and pursue a simple, quicker path,” Shapiro said.
The bridge had been a welded steel I-beam design with a 104-ft span and 14.58-ft clearance that was completed in 2016, ENR previously reported. It saw average daily traffic of about 160,000 vehicles, about 8% of which were trucks.
On June 11, a tanker truck carrying a petroleum-based product caught fire on the exit ramp below the bridge, causing the northbound lanes to collapse and rendering the southbound lanes structurally unsound. The truck's driver, whom Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney identified as Nathan Moody, was killed. The incident is still under investigation.
The replacement plan calls for crews to place about 7,200 cu yd of recycled glass aggregate backfill where the bridge was located in an 80-ft-wide center portion of the 150-ft-wide highway, a PennDOT spokesperson says. That will carry three lanes of traffic in each direction via a temporary road surface, but the Cottman Avenue exit from I-95 North—which the destroyed bridge had crossed—will remain closed longer.
Construction would then begin on the outer lanes, about 35 ft on each side of the middle section, according to PennDOT. Once construction of those outer lanes was complete, traffic would be moved to them, the backfill and temporary roadway would be removed and construction of the middle section could be completed. Once the project is completed, the northbound Cottman Avenue exit would reopen.
Backfill deliveries were scheduled to begin June 15, Shapiro said. Demolition, performed by Sewell, N.J.-based C. Abbonizio Contractors Inc., was also set to complete that day. As ENR previously reported, Abbonizio had been working for PennDOT on another project nearby and was able to have equipment on site within hours of the fire to begin demolition.
“That means we will have completed the demo in four days, not the week or more as they initially expected,” Shapiro said.
Cost and Timeline
Officials could not provide a timeline for the work or an estimate of the full cost. Shapiro issued a disaster emergency declaration earlier in the week, allowing state agencies to bypass normal procurement rules. Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll said PennDOT had hired Buckley via an open-ended contract for the project. A representative for the contractor was not immediately available to discuss the work.
“We wanted the workforce to be readily available, the equipment to be readily available and the firm to have the expertise,” Carroll said. “Buckley checked all those blocks.”
Ryan Boyer, head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, said its members were committed to working around the clock to complete the project as quickly as possible.
Shapiro’s disaster declaration also set $7 million in state emergency funding for the work. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has also pledged to provide support in the forms of funding and technical expertise for the project. The Federal Highway Administration released $3 million in quick-release emergency relief program funds to Pennsylvania June 13, agency head Shailen Bhatt said while testifying at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee oversight hearing on the highway portion of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Bhatt said all highway-related costs of the collapse, cleanup and rebuild “will be borne through the emergency relief program. The $3 million is sort of a down payment.” He said that amount is “about a 10% estimate" of what state officials expect to need. "If that number goes up, we’ll provide more fundingm,” he said.
In response to questions from committee member Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Bhatt added that Buttigieg has asked the highway agency to look at what provisions the Federal Transit Administration may have available for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s costs related to the bridge collapse. That agency has a commuter rail line that includes a stretch parallel to I-95 for part of the way north toward Trenton, N.J., and has added extra capacity and service to provide an alternative means of travel during the interstate closure.