I-85 bridge in Atlanta collapses after fire breaks out

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 3/31/2017

A section of a bridge on Interstate 85 near Piedmont Road collapsed at approximately 7 p.m. local time on Thursday, March 30, in Atlanta, Ga., after a fire broke out. Expecting massive consequences to travel and the economy, Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency.

At approximately 6:12 p.m. on Thursday, 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.

Check out the moment the bridge collapsed here.

Miraculously, no one was injured or killed.

Closures and detours include:

  • I-85 is closed from I-75/Brookwood split to the North Druid Hills exit. 
  • Motorists traveling northbound on I-85 from the southside of Atlanta will be diverted to northbound I-75 at Brookwood near 17th Street. 
  • Motorists traveling southbound on I-85 north of Atlanta will be diverted to northbound on SR400. 
  • Motorists traveling southbound on SR400 from north of Atlanta will be diverted at the Sidney Marcus exit. 
  • I-285 and I-20 are both open to traffic and are the best alternatives for motorists to use if possible.

Georgia Department of Transportation bridge inspectors were surveying the bridge overnight. As of press time, no timeline is available for reconstruction of the bridge. What is known is that reconstruction will take a significant amount of time, and more damage is likely to be discovered as inspectors look through the entire bridge. Hotspots from the fire have left sections of the bridge inaccessible.

As of press time, the cause of the fire is unknown. 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.

GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said the PVC piping and plastic conduit could not have caught on fire without something or someone starting it. McMurray likened the materials to a plastic cup in a cupboard – i.e., incapable of just bursting into flames spontaneously.

I-85 is a major transportation source for Atlanta and the Southeast. In addition to significant impacts to travel, Gov. Deal mentions in his state of emergency declaration that the collapsed bridge can have significant consequences socially and economically.

During a press conference on Friday, March 31, GDOT said it will receive $10 million in federal funding to help repair the bridge. Approximately 700 feet of the bridge was damaged. Repairs are likely to take several months.

Georgia Department of Public Safety Colonel Mark McDonough emphasized that the routine lives of people who rely on Interstate 85 in the area has changed, and they must accept it and adjust accordingly.

“You’re looking at the proverbial cork in the bottle,” Col. McDonough said.

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