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 told news reporters Friday the site beneath the collapsed roadway was used to store noncombustible, state-owned construction materials.
They included coils of plastic conduit used in fiber optic networks.
McMurry said 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 noted that even noncombustible materials can still burn. He said the materials burning beneath the collapsed span “generated a whole lot of heat.”
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 said Friday that 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 cause of the fire is still under investigation.
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 said 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 said.
Keith Parker, CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, said there was a 25 percent surge in ridership and a nearly 80 percent increase in sales Friday morning.
Parker called it “an opportunity to make sure everyone knows that there are alternatives to driving alone.”
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.
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.
Commuters in Atlanta have been struggling to get to work on time the morning after a section of Interstate 85 collapsed, forcing them to find alternate routes.
Connie Bailey-Blake of Dacula, 37 miles northeast of Atlanta, was catching a MARTA commuter train Friday morning to reach her job in downtown Atlanta. She typically drives 46 miles to work, often using the interstate.
Bailey-Blake said: “The first few days are going to be difficult.” She arrived at the train station at 9:15 a.m. — 15 minutes past when her work day was supposed to start.
Amelia Ford, who lives in Atlanta, opted to find another route to work by car Friday said it took her 45 minutes to travel 3 miles from her home to the nearest open interstate exit. She said other drivers were being “surprisingly, pretty patient.”
A man who was watching as a section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta collapsed said he heard several explosions under the bridge and then a slow rumbling as the structure collapsed.
Bobby Barnhart works in sales for a financial technology company near the interstate. He said he and his colleagues were watching from about 60 yards away as the fire raged and the bridge went down during rush hour Thursday afternoon.
“It was a loud, muted rumble. It was a big sound. You could feel the vibrations,” he said.
With the interstate closed in both directions, he said his Friday commute into work on nearby streets was much more jammed than usual, taking him about 30 minutes rather than the normal 10 to 15 minutes.
Bridge inspectors have determined that 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 said in a news release Friday that the extent of the fire-related damage will require extensive reconstruction to ensure driver safety.
McMurry said the agency hasn’t been able to assess the full extent of the damage because of lingering hotspots. He said 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.
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 told The Associated Press the transit system was seeing strong crowds but that everything was going well.
He urged people to remember that trains can get people from the system’s northernmost points to downtown in about 20 minutes and that 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.
Atlanta’s rapid transit system is increasing service to accommodate increased ridership expected after a massive fire caused a section of Interstate 85 to collapse.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, says it’s increasing rail services and will have additional staff on hand to help passengers.
The fire and subsequent collapse happened during the Thursday afternoon rush hour. Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry says there’s no way to tell when the highway can be safely reopened to traffic in either direction.
The interstate, which carries 250,000 cars a day, is a major thoroughfare for traffic heading north and south through Atlanta. Georgia State Patrol Commissioner Mark McDonough says the bridge collapse effectively “puts a cork in the bottle.”
A major effect on traffic in a city already known for gridlock is expected 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 can be safely reopened to traffic in either direction following the collapse, which happened Thursday afternoon during rush hour.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry says the collapse “will have a tremendous impact on travel.”
The interstate is a major artery for the U.S. South and a thoroughfare for traffic heading north and south through Atlanta.
Traffic was bumper to bumper on nearby streets Thursday night as people scrambled to find alternate routes.
However, officials say no one was hurt despite dramatic images of towering flames and smoke.