Major US highway in Philadelphia reopens after deadly fire

Part of Interstate 95 collapsed after a tractor-trailer caught fire, cutting off the main north-south route along the East Coast.

A construction worker cuts rebar at the scene of a collapsed elevated section of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [Matt Rourke/The Associated Press]

A stretch of a major US highway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has reopened after a deadly blaze caused it to collapse and snarl traffic along a key commercial route.

The incident on Interstate 95 occurred on June 11 when a tractor-trailer carrying petrol overturned on an offramp. The driver was killed, and the resulting fire caused an elevated portion of the highway to collapse.

I-95 is an arterial route for individual and commercial traffic along the US East Coast. It stretches from the Canadian border in Maine to the southern tip of Florida.

The office of Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro announced the highway would open by noon (16:00 GMT) on Friday, ahead of the expected finishing date.

“Experts told us on the first day it would take months to reopen I-95. But because of the hard work of our outstanding tradesmen and women and our all hands on deck approach, we’re now on track to reopen I-95 just about two weeks after the collapse,” Shapiro tweeted on Thursday.

An image provided by the Office of Emergency Management shows firefighters near the collapsed part of I-95 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [Office of Emergency Management via AP]

The closure had snarled traffic in and around Philadelphia, located between New York City and Washington, DC, and threatened to raise the cost of consumer goods as truckers were forced to find detours.

The newly constructed stretch of highway will be temporary and is actually a new road that bypasses the area of the collapse.

Pennsylvania officials said workers used about 2,000 tonnes (1,814 metric tonnes) of “ultra-lightweight foamed glass aggregate” to elevate the land next to the collapsed highway. The new portion was then paved with six lanes – three in either direction.

“It’s safe, it’s sound, it’s ready to go to work,” Mike Carroll, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, told reporters this week.

US President Joe Biden praised the reopening and noted in a statement Friday it was happening “in record time”. He pointed out that the emergency work was all federally funded, and he praised those who had carried out the repairs on the highway not far from where he grew up in Claymont, Delaware.

“I know how important it is to people’s quality of life, the local economy, and the 150,000 vehicles that travel on it every day,” he said.

Biden had joined Shapiro on a helicopter tour of the construction on Saturday. He praised the design as “incredibly innovative in order to get this work done in record time”.

Traffic barely moves in a neighborhood near an elevated section of Interstate 95 that collapsed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [Matt Rourke/The Associated Press]

Rain had threatened to delay the reopening, but a truck-mounted jet dryer normally used to keep moisture off race tracks was brought in to keep the fresh lanes dry enough to complete the finishing touches, including painting lines.

The around-the-clock construction also became a bit of a spectator sport for interested motorists. It was live-streamed online, drawing thousands of viewers.

Officials plan to build a permanent bridge where the collapse occurred. The timeline on the completion of that project is currently unclear.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies