State and federal investigators were trying to figure out why a tanker caught fire Monday A section of the East Coast’s main north-south highway collapsed, throwing hundreds of thousands of morning commutes into chaos and disrupting trade for countless businesses.
Interstate 95 will be closed in both directions for weeks as the summer travel season begins. Motorists should expect extensive delays and street closures, and should avoid the northeast corner of the nation’s sixth-largest city, traffic officials said.
The crash also disrupted the car route from Canada to Florida through the Boston, New York and Washington metropolitan areas, increasing Americans’ dependence on air travel and the interstate rail network.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Michael Carroll said the I-95 segment carries about 160,000 vehicles a day and may be the busiest state in Pennsylvania.
The fire, which broke out on Sunday morning, sent thick plumes of black smoke into the air. According to the Philadelphia Fire Department, the northbound lanes collapsed and the southbound counterparts were compromised.
Authorities have not publicly identified the truck’s owner or driver, and have not said whether the driver survived or what sparked the fire. A Pennsylvania State Police spokeswoman said early Monday morning that she had no information on those details and did not say when police might release more.
Gov. Josh Shapiro signed a disaster declaration Monday that gives state agencies the ability to skip normal bidding and contracting requirements so the gap can be quickly repaired, he said. The notice lasts 21 days unless lawmakers agree to extend it. Shapiro said Sunday that no motorists were injured or killed on the highway, although videos shared on social media showed some close calls, with people driving uphill as flames from the fire below.
AAA spokeswoman Jana Tidwell warned of a congestion “ripple effect” and that the closures could mean drivers face more wear and tear on their cars, higher tolls and higher gas costs.
Officials said the tanker contained hundreds of gallons (liters) of petroleum products. It took about an hour to bring the fire under control.
According to Drexel University structural engineering professor Abi Agayere, excessive heat from the fire or the impact of the explosion may have weakened the steel beams supporting the overpass. Bridges like the one that collapsed usually don’t have fire protection like concrete encasement, he added. It may have been coated with fire retardant paint, but even then the beams may have weakened.
“It gives you time,” he said.
Among several transit changes across the region, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority said it will run three additional morning and afternoon trains on its Trenton, New Jersey, route, adding capacity to regularly scheduled routes during peak hours following the decline.
The collapsed section of I-95 was part of a $212 million reconstruction project that wrapped up four years ago, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Brad Rudolph. PennDOT rated the 104-foot span in “good” condition earlier this year, with another inspection set for 2025.
Shapiro, a Democrat, said he spoke directly with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and was assured there would be “absolutely no delay” in getting federal funding quickly to rebuild what he called a “critical road” safely and efficiently. Possible. Shapiro said the complete reconstruction of I-95 will take “a few months” and that in the meantime officials are looking at “interim solutions to reconnect I-95 and get traffic through the area.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said it is sending a team to investigate the fire and collapse.
Officials are also concerned about environmental impacts from runoff into the nearby Delaware River.
After a sheen was spotted in the Delaware River near the wreck, the Coast Guard used a buoy to contain the material. The tanker has a capacity of 8,500 gallons (32,176 liters), but the contents do not appear to have been released into the environment, Ensign Josh Ledoux said.
Like another fire in Philadelphia in March 1996, an illegal tire dump under I-95 caught fire, melting guardrails and bending the pavement.
Catalini reported from Trenton, New Jersey and Levy from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.