GDOT releases alternate routes, closures following I-85 bridge collapse

A massive fire burned under I-285, causing a portion of the bridge to collapse Thursday afternoon. (SOURCE: WGCL)

UPDATES (AP):

1:55 p.m. — Officials say they haven’t determined the cause of a raging fire that collapsed an elevated span of Interstate 85 in Atlanta, where commuters can expect months of traffic headaches during lengthy repairs.

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurray tells news reporters Friday the site beneath the collapsed roadway was used to store noncombustible, state-owned construction materials.

(WSEE)

They included coils of plastic conduit used in fiber optic networks.

McMurry says at least 350 feet of Interstate 85 northbound and southbound will have to be replaced, a job he said would take months. He would not give a more specific timeline.

Atlanta Fire Chief Joel Baker notes even noncombustible materials can still burn. He says the materials burning beneath the collapsed span “generated a whole lot of heat.”

___

1:45 p.m. — An expert in structural engineering says intense heat from a raging fire could have caused an elevated section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta to degrade and eventually collapse.

Lauren Stewart is the director of the Structural Engineering and Materials Laboratory at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. She says Friday even steel-reinforced concrete is susceptible to breaking down in fires that “burn for long periods and with high heat.”

A raging fire Thursday afternoon caused a 350-foot section of the interstate to collapse north of downtown Atlanta. Officials say commuters and travelers will have to use alternate routes for months while repairs are made.

The Georgia Department of Transportation confirms the following road closures:

  • I-85 Northbound between I-75 and GA 400
  • I-85 Southbound between GA 400 and I-75
  • Buford Hwy Conn (SR 13) Northbound between midtown and Sidney Marcus
  • Buford Hwy Conn SB between the I-85 flyover and Piedmont Rd
  • Piedmont Rd NB closed at Cheshire Br
  • Piedmont Rd SB closed at Buford Hwy Conn

Below is a photo of the suggested alternate routes:


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1:20 p.m. — Officials say commuter behavior shifted quickly after a section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta collapsed amid a massive fire, shutting down the busy highway for at least the next several months.

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry says there was a 70 percent decrease Friday morning in the number of cars on the sections of I-85 leading up to the now-closed section. There was also a 20 to 25 percent increase in traffic on the major roads surrounding the interstate, he says.

Keith Parker, CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, says there was a 25 percent surge in ridership and a nearly 80 percent increase in sales Friday morning.

Parker calls it “an opportunity to make sure everyone knows that there are alternatives to driving alone.”

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1 p.m. — Federal transportation officials have awarded $10 million in emergency funds to help repair a collapsed section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta.

A U.S. Department of Transportation news release says Secretary Elaine Chao spoke to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Friday and let him know about the money. The overpass collapsed during the Thursday afternoon rush hour after a massive fire broke out beneath the interstate in an area used to store construction materials.

The agency says the “quick release” funding will be used to restore emergency access and begin the most critical repairs in the next few weeks. The funds for short-term repairs “can make long-term repair work possible in the weeks ahead.”

The bridge was built in 1953 and reconstructed in 1985 to accommodate higher traffic volumes.

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12:10 p.m. — Georgia’s governor says the federal government is offering help that will let the state, city and private contractors “immediately” assess the damage and begin repairs after a section of Interstate 85 collapsed amid a massive fire.

Deal’s statement said officials with the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation joined state officials for a briefing on Friday morning.

The governor warned that the repair will be a long process. Deal said beams for a new bridge will have to be manufactured, tested, transported and individually installed.

He says public safety is the primary concern and asks for patience and understanding.

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9:20 a.m. — Bridge inspectors have determined the southbound lanes of Interstate 85 sustained damage from a fire that caused the adjacent northbound section to collapse and will also need to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry says in a news release Friday the extent of the fire-related damage will require extensive reconstruction to ensure driver safety.

McMurry says the agency hasn’t been able to assess the full extent of the damage because of lingering hotspots. He says it’s unclear how long the reconstruction will take but that it’s expected to be time consuming.

McMurry says the fire started in an area that was used as a storage location for construction materials, equipment and supplies. Authorities are still working to determine how the fire started.

___

8:45 a.m. — Streets in Atlanta were clogged with traffic Friday morning after a massive fire caused a section of Interstate 85 to collapse, closing the major artery for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, added extra trains to accommodate additional passengers who may try to avoid the roads altogether.

MARTA CEO Keith Parker tells The Associated Press the transit system was seeing strong crowds but that everything was going well.

He urges people to remember trains can get people from the system’s northernmost points to downtown in about 20 minutes and a trip between downtown and the airport takes about 15 minutes.

The collapse happened during the afternoon rush hour on Thursday and officials have said there’s no way to tell when the highway can be safely reopened to traffic in either direction.


(ORIGINAL STORY)

ATLANTA, Ga (CBSN) — A major effect on traffic is expected in a city already known for gridlock after a massive fire caused a bridge on Interstate 85 to collapse in Atlanta.

Georgia’s top transportation official says there’s no way to tell when the highway, which carries 250,000 cars a day, can be safely reopened to traffic in either direction following the collapse, which happened Thursday afternoon during rush hour.

“We will have to continue to evaluate the situation and adjust as we do,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry says. “This incident – make no bones about it – will have a tremendous impact on travel.”

The interstate is a major artery for the South and a thoroughfare for traffic heading north and south through Atlanta. The bridge collapse effectively “puts a cork in the bottle,” Georgia State Patrol Commissioner Mark McDonough says.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency Thursday night for Fulton County.

A massive fire burns underneath the I-85 northbound bridge near Piedmont Road. (CBSN)

Atlanta Fire Department spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford says no cars were on the overpass when it fell.

“Our guys got here quickly and shut down the interstate and said, ‘No one else is driving over this bridge,’” he says.

Firefighters noticed chunks of concrete falling from the bridge and got out of the way just minutes before it collapsed, Stafford says.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports flames burned for more than an hour under I-85 northbound near Piedmont Road, spewing clouds of black smoke skyward. The interstate has been closed indefinitely and the Department of Transportation warned all motorists to stay off I-85.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper on nearby surface streets Thursday night as people scrambled to find alternate routes.

CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL-TV says, “Miles of cars were stopped on the bridge just yards from the collapsed section. Eyewitnesses reported seeing some people getting out of their vehicles and leaving them on the road, opting to walk to nearby areas.”

However, officials say no one was hurt despite dramatic images of towering flames and plumes of smoke.

“This is about as serious a transportation crisis as we can imagine,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says.

People make their way away from the bridge fire on Piedmont Road as emergency personel work the scene of a bridge collapse at I-85 in Atlanta on March 30, 2017; the flames caused an I-85 overpass to collapse during afternoon rush (REUTERS)

All Rose Diggs tells The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she lives less than a mile from the fire site but couldn’t get home because of blocked surface streets. She says she was told to walk despite being disabled, “but it’s raining and dark.”

Capt. Mark Perry of the Georgia State Patrol tells the newspaper the agency doesn’t know what started the fire beneath the bridge but terrorism isn’t suspected.

Deal tells reporters some PVC plastic materials in a vehicle may have caught fire.

“I do not know why they did or what the source of their transport was,” Deal says Thursday. “But those are questions that will hopefully be answered at least by tomorrow morning.”

Atlanta Police tells WGCL the fire burned piles of plastic wiring under the overpass.

Fire burns out of control under I-85 in Atlanta, causing highway overpass to collapse on March 30, 2017. (REUTERS)

Though the material burned was plastic, officials say there was no danger of particles in the air to the public.

Gov. Deal says inspectors were at the scene and they’ve contacted the original company that built the bridge to come in and assess the extent of the damage.

“We’re trying to determine everything we can about how quickly can we repair it and get it back in service,” Deal says. “I can assure you we will do everything to expedite the repair and replacement of that section of the bridge.”

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