Less than two months after a section of an Interstate 85 bridge collapsed in Atlanta, Ga., Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry celebrated the reopening of the bridge during a ceremonial ribbon cutting on Thursday, May 18. GDOT had aimed at a reopen date of June 15, putting the project five weeks ahead of schedule.
The I-85 Bridge over Piedmont Road in Atlanta officially reopened on Saturday, May 13, according to a GDOT press release. On Thursday, Sec. Chao praised everyone involved for their hard work.
“On behalf of the president, I am so pleased to be with you today,” Chao said during the ceremony. “This is a wonderful occasion to help celebrate the ceremonial opening of this new bridge and the men and women who made it possible. This is a historical day for Atlanta.”
Chao recognized that building a bridge in less than seven weeks is “a marvel of dedication, engineering and teamwork.”
At approximately 6:12 p.m. on Thursday, March 30, the Atlanta fire department was dispatched after several calls about a fire on the I-85 bridge just south of GA 400, according to Fire Chief Joel Baker. Fires crews showed up at approximately 6:20 p.m. At around 7 p.m. a section of the northbound bridge collapsed with the southbound section receiving significant damage from the fire, requiring replacement for both.
McMurry said that the blaze was set deliberately.
Basil Eleby, 39, was charged with two felonies: first-degree arson and first-degree criminal damage to property, according to Tracy Flanagan, senior public affairs officer at Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. Two others who were with Eleby have been charged with trespassing. Eleby was held on a $200,000 bond. The others were released.
According to GDOT, the area where the fire originated was being used to store construction materials, equipment and supplies below the bridge. Materials including PVC piping and other non-combustible high-density plastic conduit were being stored. The location was a secured area.
McMurry said that the high-density polyethylene conduit and fiberglass conduit were owned by GDOT to install advanced traffic management systems such as cameras, digital signs and ramp meters for State Route 400. The project bid was in 2007, and the materials were moved to its current location at Piedmont Road sometime in 2011. GDOT did not break any storage rules as keeping leftover materials under bridges is standard procedure across the nation.
GDOT Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle said that beam fabrication is among the most critical aspects of the bridge reconstruction. Plans for fabrications were completed within three days with a full replacement completed three days later.
Built in 1984, the bridge was last inspected in August 2015. During the inspection, the bridge received a “Good” rating and was deemed structurally adequate for its age.