The intense heat from the fire buckled the beams of the eastbound Route 22 bridge overhead, rendering it unstable and unsafe for traffic either on it or on I-81 below.
Emergency work is currently under way on the Interstate 81 Exit 67 interchange just north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital, repairing widespread damage after a tanker hauling 7,500 gal. of diesel fuel overturned and caught fire on May 9, 2013.
The incident took place on the ramp from northbound I-81 to westbound Route 22/322. The intense heat from the blazing fuel spilling out from the ruptured tanker destroyed the concrete deck of the ramp and caused steel beams on an overhead bridge carrying eastbound Route 22 to buckle. Concerned about the structural stability of the overhead Route 22 bridge, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) closed both directions of I-81 as a safety precaution until the overhead structure could be removed, thus severing a major north/south transportation corridor in the eastern United States.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed a disaster emergency proclamation, permitting the Commonwealth to expedite assistance from contractors and to apply for financial aid from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) toward the estimated $12 million to $13 million needed to pay for restoration of the Route 22 eastbound connection to Harrisburg and the cost of returning the northbound I-81 ramp to westbound Route 22/322 to service. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) quickly made available an initial $2 million in quick release emergency funds for PennDOT. The governor’s proclamation was his first to apply to a highway emergency, previous declarations having been issued in response to weather-related disasters.
The emergency declaration enabled PennDOT to hire J. D. Eckman Inc. of Atglen, Pa., to address the demolition of the bridge over the interstate and Pennsy Supply Inc. of Harrisburg, Pa., to restore an eastbound Route 22 connection to Harrisburg. Pennsy Supply accomplished its work by building a crossover to the westbound roadway and bridge and restricting traffic to one lane in each direction, separated by concrete median barrier. This was accomplished by late May 12. The next day the last portion of the eastbound Route 22 bridge over I-81 was removed by J.D. Eckman, enabling I-81 finally to be reopened to traffic.
“We were very fortunate not only to quickly enlist the services of J.D. Eckman and Pennsy Supply, but also to have them respond right away with their equipment and personnel. We’re pleased with their performance and with the coordination between them and our staff and also with the Pennsylvania State Police. A lot was asked of them, and they came through for us and for the people who depend on I-81 for transportation,” said Mike Keiser, district executive of PennDOT Engineering District 8, which covers south central Pennsylvania.
J. D. Eckman Inc. crews worked around the clock to demolish the bridge over I-81, assisted by three 500 ton cranes. Mobilizing and bringing each crane to the site was estimated to cost between $25,000 and $30,000 apiece, with an additional rental cost of about $8,000 per day.
At the time of the tanker fire, the company was at work nearby on the George N. Wade Memorial Bridge carrying I-81 over the Susquehanna River. That project involves major rehabilitation work, including concrete and metal repairs to the bridge’s superstructure and substructure. Completion will remove the bridge from the state’s list of structural deficient bridges.
Since reopening I-81 to traffic, J.D. Eckman has continued working on demolition of the deck on the ramp from northbound I-81 to westbound Route 22/322. This deck should be rebuilt and the ramp reopened to traffic by mid-to-late September. High Steel Inc. of Lancaster, Pa., has been contracted for $2.1 million to fabricate and deliver steel beams for the new eastbound Route 22 bridge. High Steel fabricated the original beams for the bridges in the interchange when it was built in the mid-1970s. And G.A. and F. C. Wagman Inc. of York, Pa., has been contracted for $3.3 million through competitive bidding to build the eastbound Route 22 replacement bridge through the interchange. The replacement bridge should open to traffic before Thanksgiving.
Click here to see time lapsed video of the demolition: