Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said Saturday that the collapsed stretch of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia will reopen within two weeks, a timeline expected to please both commuters and long-haul truckers.
“We are getting it done here in Philly,” Shapiro said at a news briefing at Philadelphia International Airport after himself, President Biden, members of Congress and Philadelphia’s mayor took a helicopter tour over the critical segment of the highway closed to East Coast traffic since last weekend.
Biden outlined the substantial initial federal commitment and longer-term support for a permanent solution to the highway. He said he is aware of the importance this stretch of roadway is to Philadelphia and the Northeast Corridor.
“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,” the president said at the briefing.
Shapiro explained that he can say “with confidence” that I-95 will be 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.
He said people in Philadelphia “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 on June 11 after a tractor-trailer carrying gasoline flipped over on an off-ramp and caught on fire. State transportation officials said the driver lost control attempting to navigate a curve.
“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 that there is “no more important project right now in the country as far as I’m concerned.”
Pennsylvania’s plan to quickly fix the roadway involves hauling in 2,000 tons of lightweight glass nuggets and crews working around the clock until the interstate is open to traffic. Instead of rebuilding the overpass right away, Shapro has said that crews will use the recycled glass to fill in the collapsed area to avoid supply-chain delays for other materials instead of rebuilding the overpass immediately.
A replacement bridge will then be built next to it to reroute traffic while crews excavate the fill to restore the exit ramp, according to officials.
Biden said the design was “incredibly innovative in order to get this work done in record time.’’
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the interstate Tuesday and committed to the federal government offering the needed assistance to repair the destruction. He did warn, however, that the damaged highway will likely increase the cost of consumer goods in the short term because truckers will now have to travel longer routes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.