Photo credit: Office of Gov. Josh Shapiro

I-95 rebuild challenges the negative perceptions of Philadelphia

Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on July 3, 2023.

Philadelphians have been known to view their city in terms of limitations and scarcity rather than opportunities and abundance. This negative perception has plagued our city for as long as I can remember. We are better than that.

This perception was proven wrong as we came together with a can-do attitude to rebuild six lanes of Interstate 95 in 12 days, temporarily replacing a portion of the highway that was destroyed on June 11 by a fire caused when a tanker truck transporting gasoline failed to negotiate a turn underneath the Cottman Avenue overpass. These temporary inner lanes now carry the 160,000 vehicle daily traffic of I-95 while the outer lanes of this vital artery are permanently rebuilt. Tragically, truck driver Nathan Moody was killed in the crash.

What are the lessons of this rebuilding initiative that can be applied to all organizations on how to achieve results?

Leadership is key to achieving a mission critical goal

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro was front and center nearly every day. He rallied everyone involved and gave them a sense of personal ownership in the project. 

Shapiro said, “Mr. Mayor [Kenny], they said it couldn’t be done you know. When I stood here 12 days ago, I must say there was a pessimism in the air. One that I believe has lingered in this city and in this commonwealth for far too long. And today, all of us here together, prove them wrong.

We have worked around the clock to get this done, and we’ve completed each phase safely and ahead of schedule. That’s all due to the incredible coordination with our local, state, and federal partners—and thanks to the hard-working men and women of the Philadelphia Building Trades who are making this happen. We all came together, and we proved that we could do big things again in Pennsylvania.”

Leadership is everything in achieving a goal. For this project, Shapiro was the right leader.

A mission critical goal that must be achieved can be used to rally support and effort to get the job done

The rapid construction of the temporary lanes of I-95 would not have occurred if it wasn’t viewed as mission critical to the daily commute of people and the efficient movement of goods along this important interstate highway.  It was a focused goal that everyone understood and could get behind. If the project wasn’t viewed as mission critical, it wouldn’t have been completed so quickly.

Photo credit: Office of Gov. Josh Shapiro

Contractors and building trades union personnel worked round the clock

The only reason this project was completed in 12 days was the 24/7 effort by contractors and union labor to get the job done. They were driven by the importance of this project. It’s something the building trades can take pride in.

Approvals were not delayed

Bureaucracy stands in the way of many initiatives. When a project must be done as soon as possible, it is surprising how quickly approvals can be obtained.

Unlike building a new highway, this rebuild only involved the replacement of a collapsed section of an existing road. Permits and approvals were expedited due to the mission critical nature of getting traffic on I-95 moving again.

Innovative approaches and speed fueled the rebuilding process

The least time-consuming method of providing a base for the temporary roadway was the use of foamed glass aggregate, previously used for road building elsewhere. 

This material was provided within days of the roadway’s collapse by a company in Delaware County, just outside of Philadelphia. The decision to use foamed glass in this particular application was an innovative decision that expedited the roadway’s completion.

In order not to delay the opening, NASCAR Pocono Raceway sent a jet blower vehicle to dry the roadbed surface, an innovative approach to speed the painting of traffic lanes.

Full cooperation and coordination among all parties involved on the project

People worked together towards a common goal. The livestream of the project helped build a sense of community surrounding the project.

Others not normally involved in rebuilding a roadway thought about what they could contribute, including convenience chain Wawa, who provided coffee and snacks to the workers.

Not all organizational initiatives provide the opportunity to rally the troops towards a focused goal. When the opportunity does arise, leaders need to take advantage of it, as did Gov. Shapiro. It permits accomplishment of the goal way beyond what can be normally expected.

Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at

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