When it comes to the transportation of product by truck, drivers face a multitude of issues: severe weather, road work, congestion, and accidents. Just recently, it seemed as though drivers who are used to traveling on Interstate I-95 through Philadelphia would face three out of those four issues and would be dealing with the disruption for months to come. That would obviously have caused additional disruptions to an already-challenged supply chain.
On Sunday, June 11, as most of the country knows, a tanker under an I-95 overpass caught fire, and the ensuing damage caused a 70-foot-wide portion of the northside of the highway to collapse. Within a day, it was determined that the southside lanes were also compromised. The result, a 6-mile length of the road in both directions was shut down…with an assumption that repairs would take months to complete.
According to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, between 150,000 and 160,000 vehicles travel this section of the highway daily, including approximately 14,000 trucks. What kept this horrendous closure from totally disrupting the nation’s freight movements is that a majority of freight moving on I-95 from Delaware and points south to New Jersey and points north use the New Jersey Turnpike.
Yet there are multiple port facilities and manufacturing and industrial businesses located near the collapsed section of the highway that would have felt the impact. Plus, Philadelphia International Airport is not far from the site so freight that needs to move north from there would have had to make significant detours. To make matters worse, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) notes that Philadelphia has four of the top 100 trucking bottlenecks.
Turning a months-long nightmare into a weeks-long inconvenience
For two weeks, the detours that drivers had to go through included many small streets and congested areas. Add to that, the fact that schools would be out for summer and you can see how that could exacerbate potential dangers and disruptions. A spokesperson for the American Trucking Associations (ATA) noted “Those vehicles are now subject to more than 40 miles of detour that is mostly non-Interstate highway with more than 60 traffic lights. This will add significant cost in time, fuel and delays…”
Yet, incredibly, less than two weeks later, this stretch of I-95 re-opened with temporary lanes. It did this by showing what can happen when innovation, dedication, and hard work combine to fix a disastrous situation. Pennsylvania’s Governor, Josh Shapiro issued an emergency declaration. Labor crews worked nearly 24/7 from the day of the accident: first to remove the debris; second to build a temporary roadway.
The material used to make the repairs is quite interesting. Over 8,000 cubic yards of foamed recycled glass aggregate were used to fill in the gaps under the roadway. . As described in an article on CNN Business, “the process used about 8 million bottles worth of glass that was taken down to a fine powder, then put through a heating process to become a foaming agent.” Because these glass compounds are ultra-lightweight, they protect the sewer and water lines that they cover. Traditional rock and cement would be too heavy.
When rain threatened to postpone work, the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania offered its Track Jet Dryer, high-powered jet engines that are used to dry NASCAR tracks. That enabled painting lane lines to begin right after workers finished paving the roadway. The estimated cost of repairs ranges from $25-$30 million, but the job is not complete. This fix is temporary and will require some adjustment from drivers since the lanes are slightly tighter than the original; that means drivers will have to drive slightly slower and more cautiously. That’s still a huge improvement over the prospect of travelling through populated neighborhoods.
It could have been so much worse
Meanwhile, crews are working as quickly as possible to build six new lanes, three in each direction. Whatever the final cost is, it’s important to consider how bad it might have been. Another article on CNN Business cited the Minnesota I-35W bridge collapse in 2007 which led to economic losses of tens of millions of dollars. The estimate of commercial truck traffic on this bridge was 5,000 vehicles per day. This section of I-95 sees nearly three times that amount of vehicles and considering this is seventeen years later it’s easy to see that the cost to businesses, shippers, and the city itself could have been much greater.
What’s clear is that when all forces (government, labor, manufacturing, even NASCAR) work together, amazing things can happen. We will have to see what effect the temporary road will have on deliveries. We still don’t know when the final highway lanes will re-open. But what we do know is what could have been an absolute disaster for our industry has turned into a temporary inconvenience..