A major section of I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia will likely remain closed — in both directions — for months after a fire beneath an overpass caused the partial collapse of the roadway this morning.
“The northbound side of I-95 has completely collapsed, and the southbound side is not structurally sound to carry any traffic over it.” Gov. Josh Shapiro confirmed during a Sunday night news conference alongside other state and Philadelphia city officials.
As a result, all lanes between the Woodhaven Road exits and Aramingo Avenue in the Port Richmond section are shut down.
Shapiro said he would issue a disaster declaration Monday morning “to immediately draw down federal funds and move quickly to repair and reconstruct” the roadway — adding his office has been in contact with the White House and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeig.
“I-95, of course, is a critical roadway that supports our economy and plays an important role in folks’ everyday lives.” Shapiro said. “Our administration, together with the Kenney administration and all of our partners, are all hands on deck to repair this safely and as efficiently as possible.”
What we know
The incident, which caused a plume of black smoke to rise above Northeast Philadelphia, was first reported around 6:20 a.m. A commercial vehicle was parked below an overpass near the northbound lanes near the Cottman Avenue ramp, according to emergency response teams.
At least one vehicle is still trapped beneath the rubble. Shapiro said emergency officials are working to locate “any individual or individuals caught in the collapse.”
Officials said the vehicle, previously described as a tractor-trailer, was carrying a “petroleum-based product” when it caught fire. Earlier reports from the U.S. Coast Guard projected the vehicle had the capacity to carry up to 8,500 gallons.
No threat to the water supply
According to the Governor, “a very, very slight sheen — in the entry area of the waterway” was detected following concerns of runoff into the nearby Delaware River. However, officials said Sunday evening the spill had been contained using booms. Brendan Reilly, with the Philadelphia Water Department, said there is no threat to the city’s drinking water or impacts to the Baxter Water Treatment Center.
Residents are being advised to continue avoiding the area. As of Sunday evening, the fire is under control, however, fire crews and a medical unit remain on scene due to the “large volume of product that was involved,” Deputy Fire Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson said.
Headache for commuters
The closure is poised to cause quite a headache for commuters. An average of 160,000 vehicles drive on the section of the now-collapsed highway each day, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
State Police, Philadelphia Police, and PennDot are working together to create and clear alternate routes for the weekday commute. But Shapiro cautioned that delays would likely last “some number of months.” A specific timeline on when I-95 could be reopened is pending a review from state engineers and PennDot.
To keep commuters up to date on detours, the state has set up a website.
SEPTA responds with new schedule
Important SEPTA updates in response to I-95 collapse: pic.twitter.com/F0r8TlVe7I— SEPTA_SOCIAL (@SEPTA_SOCIAL) June 11, 2023
In addition, SEPTA announced it will add capacity to the Trenton, West Trenton, and Fox Chase lines to account for the extra riders expected for the weekday commute. SEPTA’s General Manager/CEO, Leslie Richards, said the agency plans to bus the Kenwood line so equipment and personnel from the Trenton line can be repurposed. Richards asked riders to, “please work with us as we work through this — especially tomorrow morning.”
“We are all going to need some extra patience in the coming days,” she said. “We ask employers to be as flexible as they can with their workforces. It’s going to take longer than normal to get to work.”
City services distributed near scene
Mayor Jim Kenney said city officials are working to address other issues related to the incident.
“In addition to road closures, we expect delays with trash collection and SEPTA bus routes in the area.” Kenney said.
The fire department is also investigating if extra fuel or gas lines were compromised in the area after some residents reported manhole coverings being blown off.
“Repairing the damage caused by this incident in a timely manner will require a strong, coordinated effort between city, state, and federal agencies.” Kenney said.