Demolished Sections of I-95 to Bolster Research, Teaching at Drexel Engineering

Interstate 95 at Cottman Avenue
Map data: Google, Maxar Technologies

Two sections of road – a bridge girder and diaphragm – that were affected by the tractor-trailer fire and subsequently collapse of Interstate 95 will be housed at Drexel University’s College of Engineering beginning this week, offering researchers and students alike a unique chance to learn from the incident.

Arvin Ebrahimkhanlou, PhD , assistant professor and Amir Farnam, PhD , associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, collaborated with officials at PennDOT to secure the sections, which come from a section of the elevated road that was closes to the fire. They say that the housing of the sections will open doors to a variety of academic opportunities.

“From a research perspective, by looking at the deformed girder, we will be able to assess its condition,” Ebrahimkhanlou said. “This will provide valuable visual clues that can help machine learning-based visual inspections recognize when a bridge is at risk.”

Farnam added that the section could be used for materials research. “There is still concrete and rebar attached to the girder,” he said. “We can look at samples on a microscopic level to determine their material makeup and how the fire affected them, giving us insight into what compositions can withstand what temperatures.”

The sections will also act as a powerful teaching tool for undergraduate students.

“You don’t typically get to see a massive piece of road like this,” Ebrahimkhanlou said. “Students from across the college will get a chance to see the damage up close, leading to conversations among structural engineers about how the bridge was designed; among architectural engineers and materials scientists about what was used to build it; and among civil engineers about the impact on traffic, commerce, the local neighborhood, and so on.”

Drexel engineers have been keeping tabs on the I-95 project since the morning of the collapse. Experts from the college have been providing context to the incident and rebuilding project in local media, and Aero Aggregates of North America, a company under the direction of alumnus Archibald S. Filshill, MS civil engineering ’95, PhD civil engineering ’10, provided recycled glass aggregate for the backfill project.