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Tens of thousands of Philly drivers have been disrupted after I-95 collapse

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Philadelphia has had a tough week. First, smoke from wildfires in Canada hovered above the city for days, keeping people indoors. Then yesterday morning, a big section of I-95 collapsed after a tanker truck caught fire beneath a bridge in the northeast corner of town. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Aaron Moselle brings us the latest.

AARON MOSELLE, BYLINE: Plumes of black smoke billowed above the highway on Sunday as firefighters worked to bring the blaze under control. A day later, I-95 remains closed in both directions as crews embark on repairing the damaged span, which carries 160,000 vehicles a day. The collapse will also complicate trips up and down the East Coast, especially for long-haul truckers and summer vacationers. Mike Carroll is Pennsylvania's secretary of transportation. He says crews will be on demolition duty for the next few days.

MIKE CARROLL: The engineering and the inspection of the southbound bridge indicated it's compromised as a result of the fire. The I-beams aren't capable of supporting the traffic. And so that structure has to be removed, and it will be starting today.

MOSELLE: This stretch of highway is pretty new. The collapsed section was part of a $200 million reconstruction project that wrapped up four years ago. State officials say the span was considered in good condition earlier this year. Investigators have yet to say what caused the road to collapse, but the tanker that caught fire was carrying more than 8,000 gallons of fuel, creating an inferno that could have gotten hot enough to melt the bridge's steel supports. In the meantime, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro has issued a disaster declaration. He says it'll take months to repair the highway.

JOSH SHAPIRO: As we rebuild I-95, Secretary Buttigieg has assured me that there will be absolutely no delay in getting federal funds deployed to quickly help us rebuild this critical artery. I-95, of course, is a critical roadway. It supports our economy and plays an important role in folks' everyday lives.

MOSELLE: Take Alison Korabik - she's the catering manager at Sweet Lucy's Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant that sits close enough to the site that she can hear the helicopters buzzing overhead. Korabik lives in a suburb just outside of Philly. Her commute to work usually takes 15 minutes. She says it took about 45 minutes traveling on back roads today. She says it'll be an adjustment if that becomes her new normal.

ALISON KORABIK: My husband wouldn't be able to go into work as early because he would be taking our kids to summer camp and school, and I would be leaving a lot earlier to come down to work, make sure we have everything we need here at the office and everything's taken care of.

MOSELLE: She's also concerned about the business located near an exit on I-95. She's been fielding a lot of calls from customers. They want to know how to get to the restaurant now. For NPR News, I'm Aaron Moselle in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aaron Moselle | WHYY