Neilson rallies successful effort to keep I-95 work on schedule, continues to check on reconstruction progress

HARRISBURG, July 3 – State Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Phila., led a last-minute effort on Friday to enact legislation allowing Interstate 95 reconstruction work to continue by extending the governor’s emergency proclamation before it expired.

After a truck tanker caught fire and the extreme heat caused a portion of I-95 to collapse, Gov. Josh Shapiro issued an emergency proclamation on June 12 to acquire federal emergency funds and cut through red tape to expedite the rebuilding of the collapsed road.

Due to a 2021 constitutional amendment, the governor’s proclamation would have expired after 21 days, July 3, unless the General Assembly voted to extend it. Neilson said this limitation on proclamations was enacted to stop supposed overreach during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The emergency declaration was due to expire today, July 3, which would have brought the entire project to a halt and could have jeopardized the federal funding needed to complete it in an expedited manner,” Neilson said.

The House of Representatives previously adopted Neilson’s H.R. 154 on June 26, which would have extended the governor’s emergency declaration by one year to give the Shapiro administration enough time and resources to complete the permanent reconstruction. However, the Senate never considered it.

As time was running out and it appeared that budget negotiations would continue beyond the weekend, Neilson, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he jumped into action.

“I immediately reached out to the governor’s office and House leadership on both sides of the aisle to make it clear that we could not let this issue get lost in the budget debate,” Neilson said. “I was on the phone with everybody.”

As discussions were ongoing, Neilson called an immediate meeting of the House Transportation Committee which unanimously approved Senate Resolution 136, an alternative proposal introduced by Sen. Jimmy Dillon. S.R.136 was amended in the Senate to only extend the governor’s disaster proclamation to Nov. 1. It cleared the Senate on June 28.

According to Neilson, the House then needed to suspend its operating rules so it could immediately consider S.R. 136 before leaving for the day Friday. A motion to suspend the rules requires a two-thirds majority vote in favor.

“I was huddled on the floor with Speaker McClinton, Majority Leader Bradford, Leader Cutler, and members from both sides of the aisle to get this done,” Neilson said.

Neilson’s efforts were successful. The House of Representatives unanimously voted to suspend the rules and unanimously adopted the resolution before it adjourned on Friday. As a result, the governor’s disaster proclamation was extended to Nov. 1, allowing the reconstruction work to continue for now.

“Thank you to the members of the House Transportation Committee and staff along with the entire House’s willingness to suspend the rules and pass this legislation,” Neilson said. “I’m happy to report that the project is full speed ahead, as I stopped by this morning to see the progress.”