On Sunday, June 11th, 2023, at 6:20am a tanker truck carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline crashed underneath a raised portion of I-95 in Northern Philadelphia, sparking a fire and explosion that caused the bridge to collapse. While the incident is still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), state police have said they are not pursuing a criminal investigation.

No motorists other than the truck driver were killed or injured. At this time the Coast Guard has not reported on any harmful environmental impacts to the waterways stemming from the accident, but there were air quality concerns due to the fumes created by the fire compounded with the smoke from the Canadian wildfires. The collapsed overpass had recently been repaired four years ago as a part of $212 million project.

The biggest concern residents and officials have expressed is the ripple effect the collapse will have on commutes and supply chain issues. I-95 is one of the busiest and most vital highways on the East Coast, and nearly 160,000 vehicles per day drive on the what is now collapsed portion.

There is a nearly six-mile portion of I-95 that is either partially or fully closed. As a result, residents and truck drivers are forced to try and find alternative routes or modes of transportation. There have already been reports of drivers having to add almost an hour worth of detours to their daily commute.

On the day immediately following the collapse, busses and trains also experienced delays which highlights flaws within the public transit systems. A spokesperson for the American Truckers Association (ATA) claimed that eight to nine percent of all traffic that passes through the affected portion are commercial trucks. The spokesperson also noted “This will add significant cost in time, fuel and delays so we urge state and federal agencies to target appropriate resources to repairing and replacing this highway as quickly as possible.”

Luckily for the ATA, the government is doing just that. Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro declared a state of emergency. This allows the cleanup and reconstruction process to cut through red tape and receive the funding it needs immediately. U.S. Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg also visited the site, and President Biden has pledged full federal support towards the reconstruction.

However, with Gov. Shapiro saying that the rebuild will take at least a few months, commuters will be stuck with their alternative transportation plans for a while. One saving grace for the region may be its collaboration with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). SEPTA oversees the region’s public transport systems which include several bus and train lines. With their main thoroughfare cut off, many commuters may turn to SEPTA in their time of need, and SEPTA is welcoming them.

In a presser following the collapse, SEPTA CEO Leslie Richards advertised SEPTA’s continued pre-COVID capacity levels. Richards also announced new accommodations SEPTA is adding for displaced commuters including additional trains running, free parking at all SEPTA stations, and bolstered staff totals.

People seemed to have listened. Three SEPTA lines that had additional capacity and trips added due to the collapse saw a cumulative 12 percent increase in ridership in the days immediately following the incident.

There are, of course, the obvious downsides to public transit versus car travel such as longer commute times and limited travel. Despite this, SEPTA has the opportunity to use this calamity to try and retain these new riders while permanently boosting their ridership.

In an instance of history repeating itself, a similar situation happened in Atlanta in 2017, where a fire caused an interstate bridge to collapse displacing commuters across the city. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) saw an 11 percent increase in riders during the reconstruction. However, those numbers dropped off after the interstate rebuild was completed, many claiming frequent delays and incidents drove passengers back to their cars. If SEPTA wants to build a new base of customers out of the displaced commuters, they’ll have to ensure that problems like these don’t arise.


Written by Jake Smith, Public Policy Intern


The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.


[Photo credit: Mark Makela/Getty Images]