PHILADELPHIA — The collapsed stretch of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia will reopen within two weeks, Pennsylvania’s governor said Saturday, after joining President Joe Biden on a helicopter tour over the critical stretch of highway closed to East Coast traffic since last weekend.
“We are getting it done here in Philly,” Gov. Josh Shapiro said at a briefing at Philadelphia International Airport after the flyover that included members of Congress and the city’s mayor.
Biden outlined the substantial initial federal commitment and longer term support for a permanent fix for the vital roadway. “I know how important this stretch of highway is” to Philadelphia and the Northeast Corridor, he said. “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.’’
Shapiro, offering a timeline that would be welcome news to commuters and long-haul truckers alike, said with Biden at his side: “I can state with confidence that we will have I-95 reopened within the next two weeks. We are going to get traffic moving again thanks to the extraordinary work that is going on here.”
He said “folks here in Philly have a real renewed sense of civic pride through this project” and that “there’s something special happening in our community” with people coming together.
The stretch of the East Coast’s main north-south highway collapsed early last Sunday after a tractor-trailer hauling gasoline flipped over on an off-ramp and caught fire. State transportation officials said the driver was trying to navigate a curve and lost control.
“I’ve directed my team ... to move heaven and earth to get this done as soon as humanly possible,” Biden said. He said he told the governor, “There’s no more important project right now in the country as far as I’m concerned.” The president described it as an “all hands on deck” project to address a “crisis.”
“We’re with you. We’re going to stay with you until this is rebuilt, until it’s totally finished,” he said at the briefing.
Pennsylvania’s plan for the work involves trucking in 2,000 tons of lightweight glass nuggets for the quick rebuilding, with crews working around the clock until the interstate is open to traffic. Instead of rebuilding the overpass right away, crews will use the recycled glass to fill in the collapsed area to avoid supply-chain delays for other materials, Shapiro has said.
After that, a replacement bridge will be built next to it to reroute traffic while crews excavate the fill to restore the exit ramp, officials have said.
Biden said the design was “incredibly innovative in order to get this work done in record time.’’
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who visited the area Tuesday, promised that the federal government would provide the needed assistance to repair the destruction, although he warned that the wreckage will likely raise the cost of consumer goods in the short term because truckers must now travel longer routes.
Joining Biden on the presidential Marine One helicopter were Shapiro, Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman and Rep. Brendan Boyle and Mayor Jim Kenney, all Democrats. Later Saturday, Biden was to attend a 2024 campaign event with union workers at the convention center.