Drexel Dragons at the Heart of I-95’s Swift Rebuild

Reopening of I-95 with fire truck and U.S. flag
The Interstate 95 highway reopening on June 27. Associated Press photo

Amid the sounds of celebratory car horns and a parade of Philadelphia's beloved sports mascots, the Interstate 95 highway triumphantly reopened on Friday, restoring flow to the East Coast’s most critical artery just 12 days after a devastating tanker fire collapsed a section in Northeast Philadelphia. 

At the forefront of this engineering challenge has been Buckley & Co., a Philadelphia-based company run for decades by Bob Buckley, ’58, HD ’12, a proud graduate, an emeritus trustee of Drexel University and the namesake of Buckley Field on the University City Campus. Over the years, the firm founded by Bob's father has built a reputation for quality and reliability that is recognized throughout the region. Projects in the Philadelphia area are many and include the Market Street and Broad Street subways, sections of I-95 and the Schuylkill Expressway, the Passyunk Avenue Bridge and the Philadelphia Center City Commuter Connection.

Beyond Philadelphia, Buckley & Co. has constructed such notable projects as the Walt Disney World EPCOT Center, terminal and boarding areas of the San Francisco Airport and sewage treatment plant construction work in Puerto Rico. The Buckley family legacy is carried on by Bob’s son, Robert Buckley Jr., who now serves as the company’s president, continuing the firm’s tradition of excellence. 

As the general contractor for the rebuild, Buckley & Co. quickly mobilized, coming up with a creative solution that involved filling the gap under the collapsed section with recycled glass nuggets and paving over the top. The solution enabled constructors and union crews working round the clock to reopen the highway months ahead of schedule. 

“The swift reopening of I-95 demonstrates how much we can accomplish when state, federal and local authorities and their partners all work together” said Drexel President John Fry. “I am also proud, but not surprised, that a company with close ties to Drexel worked out the solution that enabled the highway to re-open ahead of schedule and much earlier than originally projected.”

Another company with Drexel ties provided the material used in the swift restoration. Aero Aggregates is run by CEO Archie Filshill, who holds a 1996 master’s and 2011 doctorate degree in civil engineering from Drexel’s College of Engineering. The Delaware County company contributed about 15,000 cubic yards of its recycled glass material to fill in the gap left by the collapsed section. The material’s light weight, about one-sixth the weight of regular soil, was vital to protect the aging sewer lines beneath the roadway. 

Six interim lanes are open to traffic initially, while construction continues on the outermost lanes. Eventually, the interim lanes will merge into a full eight-lane, permanent roadway. 

The novel solution was lauded as “incredibly innovative” by President Joe Biden, who toured the site shortly after the incident. 

Valuable engineering expertise and consultation were also provided by Drexel engineering professors, Amir Farnam, PhD;  Arvin Ebrahimkhanlou, PhD; Abieyuwa Aghayere,PhD; and Rob Swan, PhD. Their technical input was instrumental in informing the rebuilding strategy and ensuring safety standards. In addition, LeBow professor Elizer Fich, PhD, provided insight on the economic impact of the collapse and School of Public Health professor Arthur Frank, PhD, discussed the air-quality impacts of the initial fire that weakened the structure.

This endeavor has underscored the ingenuity of Pennsylvania engineers, and displayed how a united effort can accomplish monumental feats against the odds.

As the first parade vehicles — which included a fire truck with Phillie Phanatic, Swoop, Gritty and other mascots — ceremoniously traversed the renewed highway, Gov. Josh Shapiro proudly declared, “We demolished a roadway; we rebuilt I-95 in just 12 days. …We showed the nation what Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are all about.”