ECA Jan2024 02

Clearing the Final Hurdles on the I-95 Emergency Rebuild Project

Following a tragic truck accident and gasoline fire that caused the collapse of a segment of Interstate 95 (I-95) in Northeast Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) leveraged existing contract vehicles to mobilize active work crews, designers, and consultants to support the emergency repairs. Hill International served as construction manager for the original construction of the collapsed segment during the second phase of the Cottman-Princeton Interchange project (CPR) from 2012 to 2017 and used familiarity with the destroyed bridge to help PennDOT implement a temporary solution and reopen the interstate to motorists in under two weeks. Multiple industry organizations and publications have since celebrated the project’s success. Most recently, the Engineers’ Society of Western Pennsylvania recognized the team’s accomplishment with a 2024 Award of Distinction. Having delivered this award-winning solution in record time, Hill and the rest of PennDOT’s team immediately started work on the long-term rebuild.

ECA Jan2024 01

After consulting the original design documents for CP2 in Hill’s document control system, PennDOT elected to rebuild the highway as it had been, with a few minor upgrades to steel components per code updates. The original design involved the construction of an external set of northbound and southbound lanes, followed by the construction of an interior, adjacent set of northbound and southbound lanes. This enabled motorists to use PennDOT’s temporary solution—a paved roadway atop lightweight, foamed glass aggregate—while contractor Buckley & Co. built the new, permanent lanes.

In November 2023, the team completed construction on the exterior lanes, enabling the demolition of the temporary roadway and the commencement of construction on the interior lanes. “We just passed the midpoint of the rebuild,” says Hill Project Manager Matthew Galbraith, PE. “There’s a lot to celebrate, as we were able to get here ahead of schedule, but there’re also a few hurdles to clear along the home stretch.”

With several months of intensive roadway construction still ahead, Hill will have to continue coordinating construction activities between Buckley, working on the emergency rebuild, and Abbonizio, working on the third phase of the adjacent CPR project. Both contractors face heightened staging and safety challenges as they execute their work simultaneously in close proximity. Hill supports both of PennDOT’s project teams by keeping channels for communication open, scheduling deliveries and construction activities requiring heavy machinery to prevent conflicts, and reviewing safety plans and monitoring for adherence.

“It’s been tight at times, but we’re making it work,” adds Matt. “It helps that we have strong documentation of the original bridge’s construction. By looking at that, we know exactly where we ran into schedule snags, staging challenges, and other issues during CP2. We’re comparing that historical data with our risk register for CP3 to come up with any necessary workarounds and prevent any issues.”

One of the biggest challenges faced by PennDOT’s team involves public relations. “We’ve been working on this 1.4 mile stretch of I-95 for nearly fifteen years now,” explains Matt, who, at this point, knows many of the business owners and residents surrounding I-95 on Cottman Avenue. “Understandably, throughout both projects, there’ve been a lot of questions from neighbors about the work and how it’s going to impact their businesses and homes.”

In the first place, the property owners along Cottman Avenue and State Road near the site of the incident—especially those with properties abutting the highway—were concerned about additional collapses and any potential damage to their properties. Following the team’s rapid demolition and assessment, PennDOT was able to allay worries about damage to adjacent properties. However, as I-95’s Cottman Avenue exit has been closed since June 2023, many businesses along Cottman Avenue and State Road continue to worry about a loss of revenue from the prolonged closure.

The Hill team’s efforts have included making information readily available to the community via multiple channels, keeping entrances to local businesses and residences completely clear of construction vehicles and materials, and providing signage or making space for signage to ensure passersby know local businesses are open. “It’s been a long time,” says Matt. “But as long as we’re here, we’re going to do our best to be good neighbors. While we can’t just cut a check for their losses, we’ll keep businesses and residents updated and work with them to solve problems where we can. Most of all, we’re working hard with PennDOT, Buckley, and Abbonizio to keep construction on schedule and finish these projects as soon as possible.”

The CP3 and the emergency rebuild are expected to conclude in 2024. For more information about the projects, reach out to Matthew Galbraith at [email protected].