Long commute begins after part of I-95 collapses

Akash Arjun

Global Courant

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

Sunday’s fire closed a heavily traveled section of the East Coast’s main north-south highway indefinitely. News outlets warned of traffic nightmares and advised on diversions, urging drivers to take more time to travel.

“This will really have a ripple effect across the region,” AAA spokesperson Jana Tidwell said Monday. She advised people to avoid peak hours.

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Tidwell also expected drivers to incur additional costs — “more gas, more wear and tear on their cars, additional tolls, in terms of leaving Pennsylvania for New Jersey and then back to Pennsylvania.”

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority said it was operating three additional morning and late afternoon trains on the Trenton, New Jersey line after the collapse, adding capacity to regularly scheduled lines during peak hours “to help support the travel needs of the city and region” .

Transportation officials warned of long delays and street closures and urged drivers to avoid the area in the northeast corner of the city. Officials said the tanker contained a petroleum product that may have been hundreds of gallons of gasoline. It took about an hour to bring the fire under control.

I-95’s northbound lanes were gone and southbound lanes were “compromised” by the heat of the fire, said Derek Bowmer, battalion commander for the Philadelphia Fire Department. Runoff from the fire or perhaps broken gas lines caused underground explosions, he added.

A crash of sorts happened on a slope below northbound I-95 at about 6:15 a.m., said state Transportation Department spokesman Brad Rudolph, and the north section above the fire quickly collapsed.

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The southbound lanes were heavily damaged, “and we’re assessing that now,” Rudolph said.

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Governor Josh Shapiro, who said Sunday night he plans to issue a disaster declaration Monday to expedite federal funds, said at least one vehicle was still trapped under the collapsed roadway.

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“We are still working to identify one or more individuals who may have been caught in the fire and collapse,” he said. There were no reports of injuries.

A huge concrete slab fell off I-95 onto the road below. Shapiro said his flight over the area showed “simply remarkable devastation.”

“I found myself thanking the Lord that no motorists were injured or died on I-95,” he said.

Mark Fusetti, a retired Philadelphia police sergeant, said he was driving south toward the city’s airport when he saw thick, black smoke rising over the highway. As he passed the fire, the road underneath began to “dip,” creating a noticeable depression that was visible on the video he took of the scene, he said.

In his rearview mirror he saw the traffic come to a halt. Soon after, the northbound lanes of the highway crumbled.

“It was crazy timing,” said Fusetti. “That it buckles and collapses so quickly is pretty remarkable.”

The collapsed section of I-95 was part of a $212 million reconstruction project that was completed four years ago, Rudolph said. There was no immediate timetable for reopening the highway, but officials would consider “a fill-in situation or temporary construction” to speed up the effort, he said.

Motorists were sent on a 43-mile (69 km) detour, which was “better than on a weekday,” Rudolph said. The fact that the collapse occurred on a Sunday helped ease congestion, but he expected traffic “to back up significantly at all detour areas.”

Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Michael Carroll said the I-95 segment carries about 160,000 vehicles a day and was probably the busiest highway in Pennsylvania.

Shapiro said he had spoken directly with US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and was assured there would be “absolutely no delay” in obtaining federal funds quickly to make what he called a “critical roadway” as safe and secure as possible. rebuild efficiently.

But Shapiro said the full rebuild of I-95 would take “several months,” and in the meantime, officials were looking at “workarounds to connect both sides of I-95 to get traffic through the area.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a Twitter post that President Joe Biden had been notified of the collapse and White House officials were in touch with Shapiro’s offices and the mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, to assist. Buttigieg called it “an important thoroughfare for people and goods” in a post on social media, saying the closure would have “significant impacts on the city and region until reconstruction and rehabilitation are complete.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said it sent a team to investigate the fire and collapse.

Most drivers traveling the I-95 corridor between Delaware and New York City use the New Jersey Turnpike rather than the portion of the highway where the collapse occurred. Until 2018, drivers had no direct highway connection between I-95 in Pennsylvania and I-95 in New Jersey. They had to use a few miles of country road, with traffic lights, to get from one to the other.

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

After a sheen was observed in the Delaware River near the site of the collapse, the Coast Guard deployed a boom to contain the material. Ensign Josh Ledoux said the tanker had a capacity of 32,176 litres, but the contents did not appear to be dispersing into the environment.

Thousands of tons of steel and concrete were piled at the site of the fire, and heavy construction equipment would be needed to remove the debris, said Dominick Mireles, director of the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management.

The fire was strikingly similar to another fire in Philadelphia in March 1996, when an illegal tire dump under I-95 caught fire, melting guardrails and shrinking the sidewalk.


Associated Press writers Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Jake Offenhartz in New York, and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

Long commute begins after part of I-95 collapses

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