U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised Tuesday to help repair the East Coast’s main north-south highway as quickly as possible and said that the destruction of a section of Interstate 95 will likely raise shipping costs because truckers must now travel longer routes.
Speaking near the site where an out-of-control tractor-trailer hauling gasoline flipped over on an I-95 off-ramp and caught fire, Buttigieg said he expected that disruptions in trucking routes will put “upward pressure” on costs along the East Coast.
Buttigieg toured the site and then, over the sounds of heavy machinery and demolition, told reporters that “every resource that is needed will be made available” to help Pennsylvania repair the bridge as quickly and safely as possible.
The collapse is snarling traffic in Philadelphia as the summer travel season starts, upending hundreds of thousands of morning commutes, disrupting countless businesses and forcing trucking companies to find different routes.
One body was pulled from the wreckage. The resulting fire caused the collapse of the northbound lanes of I-95. The southbound lanes were compromised by the heat from the fire, authorities say.
It could take weeks, at least, to replace the damaged and destroyed section.
Most drivers traveling the I-95 corridor between Delaware and New York City use the New Jersey Turnpike rather than the segment of interstate where the collapse occurred.
Pennsylvania’s transportation secretary, Michael Carroll, said he expects to release a replacement plan on Wednesday for the roughly 100-foot-long section of I-95.
Buttigieg said he had not seen any sort of estimate of cost increases for shipping, but said the industry is working to make the most of alternative routes. He also suggested that the U.S. Department of Transportation is working with route-selecting software firms such as Google and Waze to optimize their products.
“At the end of the day, there’s no substitute for I-95 being up and running in full working condition,” Buttigieg said.
Of the 160,000 vehicles a day that travel that section, 8% are trucks and “obviously that is a lot of America’s GDP moving along that road every single day,” Buttigieg said.
For now, I-95 will be closed in both directions.
The elevated southbound portion of I-95 will have to be demolished, as well as the northbound side, officials say.
The driver of the tractor-trailer was feared dead, and the Pennsylvania State Police said a body was turned over to the Philadelphia medical examiner and coroner. However, the city medical examiner has yet to identify the remains and neither that office nor police are saying whether they believe the remains belonged to the driver.
Authorities say the driver was headed northbound, navigating a curving off-ramp when the vehicle went out of control and landed on its side, rupturing the tank.
PennDOT rated the span as in good condition earlier this year, with another inspection set for 2025.
Rebuilding it is likely drag into July or August.
In California, a similar situation happened with a highway ramp in Oakland. It was replaced in 26 days, Joseph L. Schofer, a retired professor of civil and environmental engineering from Northwestern University, said.
In Atlanta, 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, Schofer said.
Associated Press video journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa in Philadelphia contributed to this report.