PHILADELPHIA – A portion of the main artery carrying traffic from Maine to Miami is now being demolished after it collapsed on Sunday in Philadelphia.
A tanker truck, carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline, crashed and exploded when the driver lost control on an off-ramp, flipping the truck, CNN and The Associated Press reported. The crash caused an inferno that burned at an estimated 2,000 degrees, damaging the steel and concrete that made up the span of Interstate 95 that fell, Delaware Online/The News Journal reported.
The news outlet said the steel supports used in bridges lose about 50% of their strength when subjected to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Concrete loses 50% of its strength at 950 degrees.
“So with that type of a fire, we are way over what would cause damage to the bridge and actually lead to its collapse,” Andrew Herrmann, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers said.
The northbound bridge of I-95 collapsed on the truck. The elevated southbound lanes were also damaged but did not collapse. It will need to be demolished, the AP reported.
“So that section didn’t get as hot, but it got hot enough to damage the steel to the point where it probably needs to be replaced,” University of Delaware Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Michael Chajes told Delaware Online/The News Journal.
The demolition could take up to five days now that crews have started removing the rubble, CNN reported.
The portion of I-95 that fell was between 10 to 12 years old and appeared sound before the fire occurred, the AP reported. It was part of a $212 million reconstruction project that finished about 4 years ago, according to state transportation officials. It was set to be inspected in 2025 after being declared in “good” condition earlier this year.
Gov. Josh Shapiro estimates that it will take several months to completely rebuild the entire span, but said that officials are looking at ways to reconnect I-95 to get the approximate 160,000 cars that drive the highway around the wreckage.
But getting some of the supplies needed to replace the bridges will take time, due to their size and weight.
Joseph Schofer, a retired professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University said that they will need to get heavy-duty steel beams that are at least 100 feet long.
“You can’t go online to Amazon and order it and have it delivered the next day,” Schofer said, according to the AP.
But a bridge can be rebuilt relatively quickly.
A highway ramp that collapsed in California was replaced in 26 days, the AP reported.
When a fire caused a portion of Interstate 85 in Atlanta to fall in 2017, it took almost double that time — 44 days — to replace the span, WSB reported. Crews worked around the clock to get the job done.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will be on the site of the collapse Tuesday, CNN reported. The department, according to the secretary, is ready to help ease the disruption, but it’s not going to be quick.
“We’re talking about major structural work,” Buttigieg said, according to CNN.
A timeline will be released as soon as engineers are able to do so.
Shapiro has already taken one of the first steps in making it happen — declaring the site a disaster to allow the state to use federal funding and not go through the normal process to get the work started. The total cost, despite the initial $7 million that’s immediately available because of the declaration, is unknown.
“Crews will work around the clock to ensure that demolition and reconstruction occurs quickly and efficiently, and that the roadway will reopen as soon as possible,” the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said, according to CNN.
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