PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Interstate 95 reopened Friday less than two weeks after a deadly collapse in Philadelphia, a quicker-than-expected rebuild to get traffic flowing again on a heavily traveled stretch of the East Coast’s main north-south highway.
Workers put the finishing touches on an interim six-lane roadway that will serve motorists during construction of a permanent bridge. Crews worked around-the-clock and wrapped up ahead of schedule, allaying fears the critical highway would be closed for many weeks.
Traffic began flowing in one direction a little past 12:30 p.m. Friday, according to a live camera at the site, and state transportation officials said all lanes would reopen shortly.
“This was a moment of civic pride for Philly and Pennsylvania. We all came together and we proved that we could do big things again in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Josh Shapiro said at a news conference at the site.
After he spoke, a procession of fire engines — one carrying Philadelphia’s pro sports mascots — and police vehicles crossed the northbound lanes of I-95, christening the new roadway as hard-hatted construction workers looked on.
The elevated section of I-95 collapsed early on June 11 after a tractor-trailer hauling gasoline flipped on an off-ramp and caught fire. 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 threatened to raise the cost of consumer goods as truckers were forced 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. A permanent bridge will eventually be constructed.
President Joe Biden joined Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro on a helicopter tour of the site a little more than a week after the collapse. In a statement Friday, Biden said he was “proud of the hard-working men and women on site who put their heads down, stayed at it, and got I-95 reopened in record time.”
With rain threatening to delay the reopening, a truck-mounted jet dryer normally used to keep moisture off the track at Pocono Raceway was brought in to keep the fresh asphalt dry enough for lines to be painted.
The 24-hour construction work was livestreamed, drawing thousands of viewers online.
The temporary roadway will be posted at 45 mph (about 72 kph), with relatively narrower lanes, and the Pennsylvania transportation department on Friday urged motorists on the high-speed interstate to slow down through that section.
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.