Update: Temporary lanes reopen Friday, per PennDOT; project cost $25-$30M, with federal government covering most of it.
When Gov. Josh Shapiro announced the temporary lanes reconnecting I-95 would reopen to traffic this weekend, he tempered the news with a caveat: The faster-than-expected timeline was dependent on cooperative weather.
Then arrived a Philadelphia forecast full of rain.
But never fear: the commonwealth has enlisted the help of a NASCAR raceway to help dry the highway and keep plans on schedule.
After receiving a call from Pa. Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll on Wednesday afternoon, operators from Pocono Raceway are prepared to stay at the site as long as they are needed, according to Ricky Durst, senior director of marketing at the Monroe County racetrack.
They’ll be equipped with their giant jet dryer, which consists of a Chevy Silverado with a helicopter turbine retrofitted into the truck bed.
Paving on the six-lane segment reconnecting I-95 happened overnight on Wednesday, according to PennDOT. And this morning, after a Pa. State Police escort down to the construction site, the jet dryer starts the work of keeping the newly laid asphalt dry so construction crews can paint the lines on top of it, Durst said.
“All things being equal, I would anticipate it takes maybe a couple hours” to dry the segment, Durst told Billy Penn.
Carroll had a previous relationship with the raceway, which is located in the mountains in Long Pond, Pa., and is known as the Tricky Triangle.
“We’ve known Mr. Carroll for a number of years, he was a representative here in Northeast Pennsylvania,” Durst said. “He knew the raceway well, knew that we often had to deal with weather circumstances during our events, and knows that we have the ability and the tools to dry asphalt.”
Considered to be a standard piece of equipment for a track, the jet dryer is used to rid NASCAR raceways of any wet surfaces. The track will also bring its Chevy Camaro pace car, which is typically used to guide drivers and control the speed during races.
NASCAR tires are called “slicks,” which allow for better friction in dry conditions, but less grip in moist ones.
“Whether it’s rain or just heavy dew, it’s really imperative that the track has a good, dry surface before people are driving around it at 200 miles an hour, so, it’s a common tool for us, it’s a common piece of machinery, and it really makes sure that the competition happens, and happens in a safe way,” Durst explained.
And while Pocono Raceway has not been asked to embark on this type of project before, the Texas NASCAR industry has stepped forward to help out during winter storms in their area, Durst said.
With this help, contractors should be able to work on the roadway through the rain, preparing for traffic to flow on I-95 this weekend as hoped, Shapiro spokesperson Will Simons confirmed.
The racetrack, which is run by the family-owned Mattco Inc., appears thrilled to be of service.
“We’re fortunate to have it,” Durst said of the jet dryer. “We’re fortunate to have the expertise and the operators that can pivot and go down there and help out.”