Philly’s I-95 Crisis Underlines Infrastructure Funding Need

Mon March 31, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Mary Reed




A length of major northeastern artery Interstate 95 was shut down on March 17 after a crack some 6 ft. long (1.8 m) and 2 in. wide (5.1 cm) was discovered in a 15-ft. high (4.6 m) column supporting part of the highway in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Last inspected in October 2007, the pillar’s crumbling concrete now exposed reinforcing rods and concrete chunks the size of bricks had fallen to the ground. The column is situated about two miles north of Philadelphia’s downtown business section, and emergency repairs necessitated immediate closure of both north and southbound lanes. The subsequent detours caused difficulties for commuters, commercial traffic, and other users of I-95. Some 180,000 to 190,000 vehicles travel this section of the interstate daily.

Around-the-clock repair work began after four steel towers were erected as additional support. In addition, eight steel “stiffener” plates were welded to beams beneath the elevated highway and then jacks lifted the deck from the damaged column. Repairs, which are expected to take about a month to complete, are being carried out by J. D. Eckman Inc., of Atglen, Pa.

The interstate re-opened to traffic early on March 20 after a stress test in which several fully loaded Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) salt trucks drove across the supported area.

Although the cause of the deterioration has not yet been established, it is thought road salt and water had worked its way into the column, causing the steel to corrode, expand and crack the concrete. More salt and water were then able to enter the gap, increasing damage over time.

Other supporting columns in the immediate area passed inspection. Several locations on I-95 in Philadelphia were already slated for structural repairs, including the damaged pillar. Dating from the 1960s, this part of the interstate needs reconstruction at a cost of approximately $1.9 billion, a project anticipated to begin about five years. In addition to this figure, $4 billion will be needed for I-95 repairs in the region.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell stated, “This incident clearly demonstrates that we need a greater investment in our infrastructure — here in Pennsylvania and across the nation.”

To this end, Gov. Rendell, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg are co-chairing the non-partisan Building America’s Future (BAF). Launched in January, the BAF is a national coalition of governors, state and local officials, and related professional associations such as the National Association of County Officials and The Council of State Governments.

Building America’s Future was created as a repository of best practices for issues relating to infrastructure funding. Its aim is increasing federal funding for this vital work and ensuring such funding is a national priority.

Rendell has declared, “We need to build America’s future, brick by brick, and the support of governors from across the country is the first critical brick because it shows that local and state governments cannot continue to do it alone. Infrastructure is a federal challenge. It requires a federal commitment of resources.”

According to the coalition, federal spending on infrastructure has declined significantly. For the past two decades such spending has on average represented a mere 3.5 to 4 percent of federal non-defense related expenditure totals, whereas for the decade from 1956 to 1966 federal spending on infrastructure formed about 10 percent of non-defense related expenditure.

Nearer home, Rendell introduced his Rebuilding Pennsylvania initiative while presenting his 2008-09 proposed budget earlier this year. Rebuilding Pennsylvania features proposals to:

• Increase funds available for loans from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank for repairing and upgrading municipally owned transportation-related infrastructure by $l3 million to $30 million for the financial year 2008-09.

• Devote an additional $200 million per annum for the next decade to bridge repairs. To aid this effort, the Commonwealth would use group bidding for bridges of similar design, streamline the environmental and design stages for reconstruction, and employ design-build contracting among other practices.

• Add $10 million to the Commonwealth’s Infrastructure Development Program for loans and grants to developers or private companies making infrastructure improvements necessary for expansion of or relocation to a particular site.

• Increase rail freight funding by $10 million annually, expand aviation funding for improvements by local and commercial airports by $5 million per annum, and provide $37 million to repair state-owned dams considered hazardous as well as contribute up to 30 percent of the cost of repairing similar dams owned by local authorities. An increase of spending on flood mitigation projects is also proposed, including an additional $3 million for programs carried out under the Department of Environmental Protection and half that amount to cover the cost of engaging more technical and engineering staff.

For more information about the Rebuilding Pennsylvania program, visit www.state.pa.us/papower/lib/papower/08-09_budget/fact-sheet-rebuilding-pa.pdf. CEG