A collapsed section of I-95 in Philadelphia will take months to rebuild following a fire

Infrastructure Week(s)

A collapsed section of I-95 in Philadelphia will take months to rebuild following a fire

Damaged sections of the highway will be demolished, with the state looking into plans for temporary connections before it can be fully rebuilt. (Commonwealth Media Services)

A section of I-95 collapsed in Northeast Philadelphia yesterday following a truck fire. Around 6:20 a.m. a vehicle fire was reported at an underpass below the Cottman Avenue exit (very close to Four Seasons Total Landscaping). Cars continued to travel on I-95 at an alarming proximity to the fire, even as the road began to visibly buckle. Following the collapse, detours are in place as not only did the collapse leave a literal gap in the highway’s northbound lanes, but also “heavily damaged,” the structure of the southbound lanes, Governor Josh Shapiro’s office said

Shapiro’s office said that a commercial truck carrying a petroleum-based product was the likely source of the fire. At a press conference today state Secretary of Transportation Mike Carroll said the driver lost control while on a curve. Pennsylvania State Police also said today remains were pulled from the carnage and have been brought to the Philadelphia County Medical Examiner for identification. It has been suggested that the concrete-wrapped structure could not sustain prolonged exposure to such high temperatures, but it will take time for official engineering reports to be released. Nearby residents could smell the thick black smoke that was emanating from the fire, and Shapiro said that he saw a slight sheen in the Delaware River that had been contained by the Department of Environmental Protection, though this did not impact the city’s water supply. 

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg tweeted that the department was willing to help with I-95’s reconstruction, and a proclamation of disaster emergency for Philadelphia County was issued by the governor’s office today, allowing easier access to federal funding. The proclamation immediately releases $7 million in state funds for reconstruction, and waives bidding and contract procedures. 

collapsed and burned highway section
The northbound lane fully collapsed, while the southbound lane sustained extensive structural damage. (Courtesy City of Pennsylvania)

Shapiro issued the following statement: “To expedite the rebuilding of I-95 and cut through the red tape, this morning, I issued a disaster declaration, allowing the Commonwealth to immediately draw down federal funds and move quickly to begin the repair and reconstruction process… My Administration is in regular contact with our federal partners, who have pledged their complete support and assistance as we create alternative routes and rebuild I-95. My Administration is all hands on deck to repair I-95 as safely and as efficiently as possible.”

The impacted stretch of highway carries 130,000 to 160,000 vehicles per day. In addition to detours into the city, which are already causing traffic issues, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has increased service frequency on the Trenton Line, and increased capacity on the West Trenton and Fox Chase Lines. 

While SEPTA service will ease car traffic if some commuters are willing to take it, the importance of I-95 through the Northeast Corridor cannot be understated, and not all commuters going to or coming from outside of SEPTA and Amtrak coverage have alternatives to driving.

At a press conference, Shapiro suggested that highway repairs will take months, and that the state was looking into temporary solutions to connect I-95. This is the second major infrastructural collapse in Pennsylvania in less than two years following a Pittsburgh bridge collapse in January 2022.