Fire trucks, mascots from all five major sports teams, union workers, TikTok influencers, the “Mayor of Mayfair,” and the president of the United States all participated in a Friday morning ceremony organized by Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration to celebrate a milestone happening way sooner than originally predicted.
Traffic is flowing again on I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia.
After a remembrance of Nathan Moody, the truck driver killed in the fiery gas tanker explosion on June 11 that took out the Cottman Avenue overpass — and the announcement of a $50,000 fund for Moody’s daughter from Philly’s sports teams — the governor didn’t mince words as he recapped the efforts to repair the major Mid-Atlantic transportation artery.
“They said it couldn’t be done,” Shapiro said, standing on the rebuilt portion of the highway. “And today, all of us here together proved them wrong. We rebuilt I-95 in just 12 days.”
On the day of the collapse, his official estimate for repair was “some number of months.” But before people could even settle in to gripe over another government project bogged down by red tape, the project moved forward with unprecedented speed.
A 24/7 livestream of the repair made accountability a bar-watching sport. Social media stars given behind-the-scenes access made the process personal.
And a pattern of underpromising and overdelivering emerged.
Six days post-collapse, with assurances of financial assistance from the White House and coordination with Philadelphia Building Trades unions, Shapiro pledged the highway segment would reopen to traffic within two weeks. The estimate shocked pundits and slayed naysayers.
Three days later, the governor upped the ante: the roadway would open, he said, by that very weekend. After another two days, the timeline moved up further. The patch would open before the weekend even began.
Several Philadelphians speculated the first to drive over the new segment would be a mascot — there was some debate over whether Gritty, a known agent of chaos, was really the right character — and Shapiro leaned in. Born and raised in Montco with a full infusion of Philly-area sports passion, he had termed the rebuild effort “our championship” from the very start.
So it made sense (at least to anyone from Philadelphia) that on Friday, the opening was commemorated by the Phanatic, Swoop, Gritty, Phang, and Franklin, riding with the firefighters who were first to the scene of the accident.
They drove over shortly after Shapiro spoke via phone with President Biden, who in a statement congratulated the governor, along with Mayor Jim Kenney, Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, his transportation officials, and the “grit and determination of operating engineers, laborers, cement finishers, carpenters, teamsters, and so many other proud union workers doing shifts around the clock” for a job well done.
Following the mascots along the reopened highway were a selection of specially-invited influencers, including Alex Pearlman (aka @Pearlmania500 on TikTok) and the “Mayor of Mayfair” (whose Northeast Philly accent briefly enthralled the nation). They walked across and snapped selfies with the gov.
The temporary roadway that reconnects the collapsed segment is built atop a big wall of foam glass sourced from Delco’s Aero Aggregates (whose products you’ve likely already walked or driven over).
Lines for the three, 11-ft. lanes in each direction were painted on after a jet dryer loaned by the Pocono Raceway helped prepare the newly-paved surfaces despite a forecast full of rain.
As they’re being gratefully used by the more than 150,000 vehicles regularly traveling that portion of the highway, no longer forced into detours that snarled side streets and disrupted commerce, PennDOT will begin to construct the permanent fix: a new overpass, built from the outside working in.
That project is projected to take a few months. Whether it’ll move forward with the momentum of the temp repair remains a question. And efforts to improve public transit access to Northeast Philadelphia with the Roosevelt Boulevard Subway are still up in the air. But the calamity was addressed with speed many found surprising.
The whole endeavor boosted Shapiro’s profile on a national level, induced chatter of his presidential potential, and gave him a platform to brag and boast about his home state.
“Over the past 12 days, the eyes of the nation have been on Pennsylvania. We showed them good government in action,” Shapiro said. “Let this serve as an example that Pennsylvania can do big things. … We showed that when we work together, we can get shit done in Pennsylvania.”