PHILADELPHIA, March 21 -- A fire-ravaged section of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia reopened for the morning rush hour Thursday following an eight-day shutdown to repair structural damage from a massive tire fire. But with only half of the eight lanes open, two in each direction, traffic jams were expected to continue for months while a 180-foot section of the southbound roadway is replaced.
Emergency repairs to the four northbound lanes of the elevated highway enabled state Transportation Department officials to open two southbound and two northbound lanes late Wednesday. The highway closing resulted in heavy traffic on New Jersey highways and the bridges across the nearby Delaware River. On Friday, 59,000 vehicles used the Walt Whitman Bridge, 20,000 more than normal and the heaviest one-day total since the bridge opened 40 years ago. Philadelphia's SEPTA transit system reported a 20 percent increase in ridership during the shutdown. A raised section of I-95 in the city's Port Richmond section sustained structural damage when a mountain of old tires piled under the highway caught fire March 13. The blaze, which reached eight alarms and burned out of control for five hours, has been rule an arson. Andy Warren, regional administrator for the state Transportation Department, said heat from the fire caused several steel supports in the concrete beams supporting the highway to snap. Warren said permanent repairs to the highway will won't be completed until Labor Day and will cost several million dollars. City officials say hundreds of thousands of discarded tires had been accumulating for years in a large warehouse and the adjoining property near the highway.