On 11 June 2023, a section of the Interstate 95 overpass collapsed in Northeast Philadelphia after a gasoline tanker crashed and caught fire under the overpass.
The driver reportedly lost control of the vehicle on an off-ramp and died in the fire. The heat from the fire caused the overpass to collapse and resulted in the roughly 9-mile (14-kilometer) closure in both directions of the critical highway segment.
Philadelphia Governor Josh Shapiro highlights the importance of this Northeast Corridor to the state. “Over 150,000 vehicles travel on it every day, including 14,000 trucks. … It’s critical to our economy, and it’s critical to our quality of life”, he says (Kim, 2023).
The closure of this section of the highway, which is anticipated to take months to rebuild completely, has prompted city officials and politicians to offer alternative routes and vowed to fix the collapsed portion as soon as possible.
The Governing article notes that although much of the U.S. transportation infrastructure is in poor condition, this is not the case for the collapsed section of I-96.
The heat from the gasoline-fueled fire is too much for any piece of roadway to withstand. Officials promised a speedy response that would cut through the red tape.
Significance of the I-95
Interstate 95 is about 2,000 miles long, running from Maine to Florida. It connects about 40 percent of the country’s population and economy on just 10 percent of its land.
Construction began in the 1950s under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and was officially completed in 2018, although repairs continue.
According to the article, the impact of the closure of a part of the I-95 will be more local than regional. The collapse happened on Sunday, but the following morning, travel time to New York from South Philadelphia was still under two hours because of the region’s many alternate roadways and routes.
A close parallel to the I-95 incident is the collapse of Interstate 85 in Atlanta after a fire. Use of the city’s public transit authority increased by 20-25%, but it returned to normal as soon as the highway was fixed, as people started going back to riding their cars.
The closure of a segment of the I-95 had diverted traffic to a nearby highway, Roosevelt Boulevard, which is also facing many safety challenges.
For decades, transit advocates have pushed a project to build a subway along this route, and the recent 1-95 collapse makes the idea relevant again, as they reason it would have provided a viable transit option and cushioned the impacts of the I-95 collapse.
However, some experts say that Philadelphia has many existing mobility options and that the interstate will soon be repaired.
Rapid Repair of the I-95
Officials have held to their promise of a speedy repair of the damaged portion of the I-95 highway. The Federal Highway Administration estimated the rebuild cost between $25 million and $30 million.
Due to nonstop 24-hour work, the highway reopened on 23 June, only twelve days after the accident. A newspaper in Germany called this feat “ein kleines Wunder,” or a small miracle.
According to Bloomberg, the repair involved emergency, no-bid contracts, around-the-clock repair crews, a guarantee from the federal government to pick up the check, and ingenuity from the Rust Belt.
As the article notes, the collapse of the section of the I-95 resulted in the closure of a portion of this critical highway. Still, its impacts were cushioned by the availability of alternative routes providing road redundancies that benefitted commuters.
According to a study, redundancy is an important concept related to resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions, and it is gaining significant attention in transportation systems.
Creating transportation infrastructure redundancy also offers a good return on investment, especially if road closures threaten the economy and the movement of people and goods.
Investing in infrastructure resilience planning will enable quicker recovery from natural and human-created disasters, minimizing the impact on our society and economy.
The speedy repair of the highway, which was initially expected to take months but only 12 days to complete, shows that when infrastructure is given an emergency priority – particularly critical infrastructure with many economic and social implications- fast action and implementation are possible.
Brey, J. (2023, June 15). U.S. Infrastructure Priorities Tested After Highway Collapse. Governing. Retrieved from https://www.governing.com/infrastructure/u-s-infrastructure-priorities-tested-after-highway-collapse
Kim, S. (2023, June 18). Collapsed stretch of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia to reopen within 2 weeks, governor says. AP News. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/biden-interstate-95-road-collapse-philadelphia-4ccd7455f02e48f62357975b24d78462
Korte, G., Niquette, M. & Woodhouse, S. (2023, June 28). How the I-95 Bridge Reopened Just 12 Days After Fiery Collapse. Bloomberg. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-06-28/resurrection-of-i-95-in-just-two-weeks-is-dubbed-small-miracle