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Philadelphia I-95 bridge collapse will cause more issues than just traffic


It's been nearly a week since an Interstate 95 overpass outside of Philadelphia essentially melted when a tanker truck burst into flames underneath it. The incident killed the truck's driver, but no one else was harmed. It's also shut down traffic in both directions on the indispensable East Coast highway and forced vehicles to take detours along slower roads. WHYY's Tom MacDonald joins us now to bring us the latest.

Hi, Tom. Thanks for coming on.

TOM MACDONALD, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

GONYEA: First, what do they know so far about why the tanker truck turned over and the overpass collapsed?

MACDONALD: We have a video that was taken on social media that they think is accurate. The driver was coming off Interstate 95. But at this exit, there's a curve underneath the highway. He was driving a truck filled with 8,500 gallons of gasoline. He hit the wall. The truck exploded, and it melted the bridge. Literally, the steel girders underneath the bridge were twisted like a pretzel.

GONYEA: Wow. A couple of days ago, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro announced a reconstruction plan involving 2,000 tons of recycled glass pieces, I guess, is the word. How is that going to work?

MACDONALD: They're going to take the chunks and fill in the highway. This was a bridge over the highway. So they have now taken off the steel from the top of the bridge and the concrete, and they are just going to fill the void up and put in six lanes of asphalt over top of that new fill. The interesting part about this is the material. It's something that resembles a plastic Styrofoam cooler that you would use for a day. And it's taken down into small chunks, I'd say about the size of a stick of gum and about three-, four-inches wide. If you think about frosting a cake, they've got a conveyor belt taking this stuff up and building it up layer by layer, and then they're going to top it off with some asphalt.

GONYEA: And any idea how long it's going to take?

MACDONALD: Well, that is the very important question everybody wants to know and nobody's telling us.

GONYEA: And what are motorists doing in the meantime? I mean, obviously they're taking detours, but is there some sense of how much time is added on to the average trip?

MACDONALD: Well, the trip in the southbound direction can be done relatively quickly. It's the northbound direction that's a longer trip. It can be 20 minutes. It can be five minutes. It can be an hour. It all depends on the time of day, depending on travel, depending on how many people take the main detour. Now, there are other detours, and no two are the same.

GONYEA: From the aerial pictures that you see, this gap in I-95 doesn't look all that wide. I mean, a gap is a gap, obviously. But I mean, I'm thinking of those "Fast And Furious" movies, right? And a good stunt driver could probably clear this gap. I'm not suggesting that. But how much pain is that little gap causing the local and national economy right now?

MACDONALD: A lot. Eight percent of the national economy allegedly moves up and down this corridor in the Northeast. And that's got a lot of people saying that this could lead to food price increases and people who want to take travel. So they're not putting a number on it yet. But I guarantee you, before this is over, somebody is going to come up with a number on it.

GONYEA: And there are a lot of side streets that are just blocked off because of this. What are small businesses who are on or along those side streets doing? And they got to be losing customers.

MACDONALD: They're hurting a lot. They are saying that they don't have any customers. One person I talked to earlier this week said they closed three hours early because there was no use staying open. There was no reason to be open because nobody was there. The customers are calling for routes. They're giving routes. And people still can't get into the area right around where the collapse happened.

GONYEA: That's WHYY's reporter Tom MacDonald.

Tom, thanks for coming on.

MACDONALD: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
Lennon Sherburne