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How to Rebuild I-95 Fast

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By: John Fund – wsj.com – June 12, 2023

Frustrated by your commute? Unless you’re in the Philadelphia area, it could be worse. A Sunday tanker-truck fire in the city’s northeast caused an Interstate 95 overpass to collapse, closing a stretch of the heavily traveled road and subjecting some drivers to 43-mile detours. Gov. Josh Shapiro says reopening the freeway will take “some matter of months.”

When an illegal Philly tire dump caught fire on a stretch of I-95 in 1996, it merely buckled the payment and melted guardrails. The road was partially closed for six months. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In 2007 a connector on the MacArthur interchange in Oakland, Calif., where three freeways meet, melted from an exploding tanker fire similar to the one in Philadelphia. It was fully rebuilt in 26 days.

A big reason was the selection of the now-defunct contractor C.C. Myers Inc. The company’s bid of $867,000 was estimated to cover only a third of the actual cost, but C.C. Myers counted on making up the difference, since it would be paid an incentive of $200,000 a day if the work was completed in less than two months. The firm earned a $5 million bonus.

C.C. Myers was hired in part because of its legendary record of repairing fallen freeway overpasses in Los Angeles after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Gov. Pete Wilson was told it would take 26 months to repair the bridges and reopen I-10. Mr. Wilson issued emergency orders to cut red tape, but his moves went far beyond the usual changes to government rules and enabled the freeway to open to its normal heavy traffic in only 84 days.

Protracted public hearings, environmental-impact reports and other procedural hurdles were suspended. President Bill Clinton refused—under union pressure—to suspend David-Bacon wage rules (as President George Bush had done in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew). But Mr. Wilson did what he could and suspended union-backed limits on overtime in the private sector, among other rules.

Most important, Mr. Wilson used incentives. He told contractors their bids had to specify when work would be finished, and that they would incur a daily penalty of $200,000 if they were late. C.C. Myers won the bid and put on three shifts that worked 24/7. It hired its own locomotive and crew to haul surplus steel from Texas, and Mr. Wilson agreed government inspectors would be on site around the clock to approve the work.

Pennsylvania officials are doing what they can to reroute motorists. Brad Rudolph, the spokesman for the state’s Transportation Department, says his agency will consider “a fill-in situation or a temporary structure” near the collapsed freeway to improve access. But Pennsylvania should seize the initiative and adapt some lessons from other states. The need for speed is urgent. Traffic on I-95 peaks in August as vacation-goers and college students join commuters and truckers on the road.

No doubt the White House will send federal cash, but no one expects it to come up with imaginative solutions or suspend Davis-Bacon union wage rules. State and local officials in Pennsylvania can still follow the example of the 1994 “Northridge miracle” and get I-95 repaired faster than the experts are now predicting.

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Source: How to Rebuild Fast After the Interstate 95 Collapse – WSJ