When a fuel tanker carrying over 8,000 gallons of gasoline crashed below a major vein of I-95 in Pennsylvania, its burning fuel caused a catastrophic collapse of the bridge overpass, just miles from downtown Philadelphia and the border to New Jersey. The detours redirected hundreds of thousands of daily commuters 45 minutes out of the way.
Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a disaster declaration to use emergency funding to fix the roadway, and every news outlet estimated that it would take months before any car would be able to resume traffic over the bridge. By every calculation, the media used a similar bridge collapse in Georgia that took 43 days to repair I-85 in 2017 to say that this fix would take just as long.
Little did they know that a local, Philadelphia-based construction company was asked to work on the emergency job by PennDOT and was already putting together a plan that would allow commuters back on the road within a week after demolition activities were completed.
A Tremendous Engineering Feat
In a heroic effort to save commuters from months of costly detours passing through Philadelphia as well as weaving in and out of New Jersey, longtime HCSS customer, Buckley and Company, Inc. engineered and constructed a temporary fix using ultra-lightweight recycled glass aggregate as well as asphalt pavement to fill in the collapsed bridge and get drivers back on the road in time for the July 4th holiday, just a week after demolition crews cleared the debris.
“We started Friday morning, and we were pretty much done Thursday night. By the next day, on Friday, we opened up around noon,” says Jason Riegler, Project Engineer, Buckley and Co. “All of our workers were on board. The morale was high, and we had at least 30 people working around the clock between day and night shifts, some walking 20 miles a day around the site to perform the work.”
As soon as Riegler heard about the collapse, he texted Buckley’s Senior Engineer, Chad Lavallee, who is also one of Buckley’s Safety Managers, and he told Riegler that he was already heading down to the jobsite.
“Our owner, Rob Buckley, was already there,” says Riegler. “And by the next day, Buckley and Co, and PennDOT were in the mix to get this thing figured out - it was really amazing how everything came together. Steel suppliers estimated a few months before beams large enough to bridge the gap could be delivered, so Chad thought it would be better to fill it in with a lightweight recyclable material that could be reused.”
“I came up with the concept for the fix, and I was also the superintendent on nights because we were working 120 hours,” says Lavallee. “I went out there on nights to help run the night crew and make sure the crew had the proper gear and toolbox talks for safety meetings. Getting to work on a job like this is great because we usually get a bad rap holding up traffic for rehabs. It was nice to see people appreciate us rather than see us negatively.”
“We worked with our subs to get an ultra-lightweight glass aggregate that we had used on several of our other projects,” says Riegler. “So we were used to that product, and it was a perfect product because the Philadelphia water department was worried about additional complications due to the weight of aggregate applying an excessive load and compromising their underground utilities.”
This lightweight material has the strength to handle the load of traffic that would be required to open the road, and if you held it in your hands, Riegler said it feels like a tenth of the weight of normal aggregate. ”For the walls, we used a steel wire grid called MSE (Mechanically Stabilized Earth) retaining walls. So the entire thing to actually build was fairly simple, backfilled with glass aggregate.”
All Eyes on Buckley & Co.
The public response was overwhelmingly in support for construction, and several 8-second TikTok videos showing nightly updates by Buckley construction workers went viral over social media. To celebrate the record time it took to reopen temporary lanes for traffic, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney hosted a party to thank everyone that worked so hard to get both citizens and businesses back on the road.
“This team is the best in the world,” says Gov. Shapiro. “They build things safely, and they build them the right way, and they get the job done.”
Innovations used through construction materials and technology were amplified by the steadfast determination of the workers on site, as the public was provided a front-row seat to see how hard construction works for them day in and out.
Currently, the permanent structure of I-95 is already underway to completion in 2024, and the new steel outer beams were already set in place by the end of August.
If you want to find out the status of this job, PennDOT provides regular updates on their official website.