June 12 (Reuters) – Philadelphia motorists endured long, frustrating journeys on blocked roads on Monday morning after a tanker truck fire caused a major highway overpass to collapse, forcing the closure of one of the busiest routes on the U.S. East Coast.
A portion of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia was closed in both directions after a truck carrying gasoline caught fire Sunday. No casualties or injuries were reported late Sunday.
Early Monday morning, local traffic reporters said bumper-to-bumper traffic was seen near the ramp and on alternate routes, but few commuters appeared to heed warnings to take public transportation or stay home.
“Things are getting very bad,” KYW News radio traffic reporter Justin Trafic said during his report just after 8 a.m. EST (1200 GMT).
He noted that Mondays are typically a low-traffic day. “Tomorrow will be the real test indeed.”
Rebuilding the stretch of I-95 will take months, officials said. It is the main north-south highway on the East Coast from Miami to the Canadian border in Maine.
Leslie Richards, CEO of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which operates public transit in the Philadelphia area, said at a news conference Sunday that “everyone will need extra patience in the coming days.”
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro urged residents to seek alternate routes, take commuter trains or work from home if possible.
The governor said he would issue a disaster declaration on Monday to free up federal funds to rebuild the highway, which carries 160,000 vehicles a day.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it has sent a team to investigate.
Andy Herman, former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said the bridges were not designed to withstand the heat of a tanker truck fire, which can exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,090 C), and such incidents are not uncommon.
Herman said Sunday’s collapse will spark a debate about changing bridge design requirements, but it’s hard to see how the U.S. can improve the country’s many overpasses.
“That means they’re looking to maintain the basic safety of the bridges as they deteriorate,” he said.
Reporting by Jared Renshaw in Philadelphia, Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Donna Bryson, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Jonathan Otis
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.