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A road made of glass is the temporary fix for I-95 after truck fire in Philadelphia

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Just 12 days since a deadly gas truck fire destroyed a section of the critical East Coast commercial corridor, I-95, crews opened six lanes of traffic in Philadelphia on Friday afternoon, a temporary fix to get vehicles moving. WHYY's Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza joins us now. And, Kristen, for people who aren't familiar, just how critical is this stretch of interstate in the region?

KRISTEN MOSBRUCKER-GARZA, BYLINE: Well, it's a major East Coast commercial traffic corridor, especially for trucks. More than 160,000 vehicles a day typically travel along it, about 14% of which is for truck traffic. In the area, there are lots of industrial sites and some manufacturers that typically rely on being able to hop on to I-95 quickly and deliver their goods. Even the Port of Philadelphia is nearby, and ships will bring in refrigerated fruit.

SUMMERS: I remember when this news first broke, there was an expectation that repairs could take months, perhaps even years. It's been just a matter of days, really. How are they able to fix it so quickly?

MOSBRUCKER-GARZA: Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro authorized a state of emergency. That way, he was able to greenlight about $7 million to kick start construction. They tapped a company that was already working on I-95, so the crews and the equipment were already in the area. The only thing they trucked in was this lightweight, recycled glass material to put underneath the roadway to build temporary lanes. They used about 2,000 tons of this material. And they even borrowed a massive jet dryer from a NASCAR raceway to keep moisture away as they painted the lines to kind of finish up. It's been raining here for the past couple of days. And, of course, they livestreamed the whole process.

SUMMERS: I'm kind of fascinated by this recycled glass that you're talking about. How exactly does that work?

MOSBRUCKER-GARZA: So officials say it's been tested. It's safe for trucks. It's light and strong. It's an aggregate glass material. And it's just a temporary fix to get the traffic moving. Pennsylvania's secretary of transportation, Mike Carroll, says the recycled glass material is safe for heavy trucks.

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MICHAEL CARROLL: The Department of Transportation has a lab that tests all the materials. Every bit of material used to construct this facility has been rigorously tested and used in multiple applications for many years in Pennsylvania and across the nation from Maine to Arizona.

SUMMERS: And, Kristen, what's the reaction been like there from local residents?

MOSBRUCKER-GARZA: Well, folks are certainly grateful not to be stuck in traffic, but they're a little surprised that it happened so quickly. Philadelphia resident Lizzie O'Leary says she's looking forward to a shorter commute to her job in the suburbs, as she's been spending about two hours in traffic each day after the collapse.

LIZZIE O'LEARY: Oh, I'm shocked. I'm totally shocked. I mean, construction has been going on on I-95 for as long as I've lived here. You know, there's always been something that slows the traffic down during the commute.

MOSBRUCKER-GARZA: So this 11-foot-wide roadway that opened today is just temporary. Once the material is removed, it's estimated to take about several more months to complete.

SUMMERS: WHYY's Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza. Kristen, thank you.

MOSBRUCKER-GARZA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kristen Mosbrucker | WHYY