Happening Now

Learning Lessons as Thwarted I-95 Commuters Try Rail

June 16, 2023

by Jim Mathews / President & CEO

See? It CAN be done! Less than a week after a terrible truck crash and post-crash fire destroyed a section of the busy I-95 interstate highway going through Philadelphia, crews have finished demolition of the incident scene and have already started to rebuild, a few days ahead of schedule.

They’re working feverishly, 24/7, to construct a new overpass and re-open I-95. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro set up a live stream so that you can watch the work being done around the clock. (Click here to go see the live stream yourself.)

Yesterday, U.S. DOT made $3 million in emergency money available to the state to make the repairs, and right now the best estimate is that the fire and the emergency reconstruction is going to cost $30 million – mostly covered by Federal grants.

Funny how much money and how much speed are possible when everyone agrees it’s necessary.

“But that’s because I-95 is important in a way that rail just isn’t,” someone might say. Well, just a figure to keep tucked into the back of your mind: if the Northeast Corridor rail service paralleling I-95 were to shut down for even one single day, it would cost the U.S. economy $100 million. Just one day. Ten days with that meter running gets you to $1 billion, or roughly a third of Amtrak’s annual operating appropriation. Or maybe another way to think about it is that it’s more than three times the emergency repair cost of this section of the I-95 interstate.

Meanwhile, it looks as if many area commuters are learning just how essential passenger rail can be. The local rail authority, SEPTA, reports that on Monday ridership on its Trenton, West Trenton and Fox Chase lines was up 12 percent, and on Tuesday ridership was up 14 percent on the Trenton, Warminster, West Trenton, and Fox Chase lines.

History tells us that some fraction of those new riders might well decide to keep riding once the highway hole is plugged, thanks to the convenience, the ability to work, read, nap, or just avoid the stress of driving on a busy north-south interstate.

Just remember these points the next time somebody tells you it’s impossible for government to move quickly. If everyone wants to move quickly, success is possible. And maybe consider reminding your own elected members of Congress that as a voter you’d like to see some real progress on keeping the promises in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed nineteen months ago.