For Engineering Students, this I-95 Project Brings Construction Management to Life

Emily Barrett, associate director of communications
Engineering students visit a construction site on I-95 in Philadelphia.
Rob Buckley '81 gave students an inside look at how his company, Buckley & Company, Inc., led reconstruction efforts to repair a bridge on I-95 in Philadelphia that collapsed in June 2023.

Since June 2023, there’s been a lot going on at the intersection of Cottman Avenue and State Street. 

The Northeast Philadelphia corner was the center of national attention when an overpass bridge on I-95 collapsed following an unintended truck turnover. In less than two weeks following the accident, an emergency response team put a temporary structure in place to reopen the interstate highway.

Robert Buckley '81 and Mike Carroll, PA Secretary of Transportation, provide students with an in-depth overview of the project.
Rob Buckley '81 and Mike Carroll, PA Secretary of Transportation, provide students with an in-depth overview of the project.

Long after construction crews finished the record-setting temporary rebuild, the construction site was once again busy with activity, but this time with Widener engineering students.

Rita El Samarany, a senior civil engineering major, was one of them. 

“In the realm of civil engineering, if there’s an area that captivates my interest, it’s certainly this one,” said El Samarany, referring to the project’s focus on transportation structure and design. 

“The visit highlighted the importance of immersing myself further in fieldwork to make informed decisions about whether to specialize in design, construction, or perhaps even pursue both paths simultaneously,” she added.

The on-site tour coincided with the launch of Widener’s new construction management program and was designed to give students a first-hand look at one of the fastest growing industries in the country

“Opportunities outside of the classroom like this give our students access to real-world applications to better understand their fields of study,” said Pamela McCauley, dean of engineering. 

The trip was made possible by Rob Buckley, a 1981 Widener alumnus and CEO of Buckley & Company, Inc., the company managing the bridge’s immediate and long-term reconstruction. Alongside Mike Carroll, Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation, Buckley gave students a first-hand overview of the project’s scope, process, and next steps. 

Two female students hold samples of building materials.
Theresa Kervick and Rita El Samarany hold samples of the ultra-lightweight foamed glass aggregate building material.

“Connecting our students with the industry experts behind the innovation and problem-solving that resulted in the I-95 bridge rebuild is an invaluable learning experience that can influence their academic and future careers,” McCauley said. 

Alumni partnerships, such as this one, are paramount to the Widener student experience for the connections and pathways it creates for students.

“Connecting with industry professionals is immensely beneficial, particularly for undergraduates seeking job opportunities,” said El Samarany. “Engaging with these professionals allows for the exchange of invaluable experiences and insights into success. Networking can also serve as a pathway to discovering mentors who can guide us along our professional journey.”

The tour was a hands-on excursion that built upon a presentation that Buckley gave on campus in February. Buckley presented “Rebuilding I-95: Twelve Days in June” to an audience of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to highlight the project’s major milestones including the “Philly Special,” a sketch drawing that outlined the original plan to backfill the gap and reopen the critical thruway efficiently and safely. 

Buckley on stage presenting "Rebuilding I-95: Twelve Days in June"
Robert Buckley '81 details the "Philly Special" during a presentation on-campus.

The on-site tour allowed students to see how the “Philly Special” came to fruition and detailed project specifics, such as the intergovernmental collaboration that enabled a rapid response, considerations to potential environmental impact, and the decision to use ultra-lightweight foamed glass aggregate building material. 

As future engineers and construction management professionals, this in-depth discussion demonstrated the multifaceted components involved in a project of this scale. 

The construction management program, the newest major in the School of Engineering that will start in the fall 2025, prepares students to lead a diverse range of projects, from constructing and revamping roads, bridges, and water pipes, to spearheading the creation of new power infrastructure and environmental remediation initiatives across the nation.

 

Explore the Construction Management Program

 

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