Transit Crisis in Atlanta After Interstate Bridge Collapse

(CN) – A massive fire in a yard used to store construction materials caused an interstate bridge to collapse during rush hour in Atlanta on Thursday, throwing Friday’s commute into chaos and leaving officials with little to say about when the roadway will reopen.

Crews work on a section of an overpass that collapsed from a large fire on Interstate 85 in Atlanta, Friday, March 31, 2017. Many commuters in some of Atlanta’s densely populated northern suburbs will have to find alternate routes or ride public transit for the foreseeable future after a massive fire caused a bridge on Interstate 85 to collapse Thursday, completely shutting down the heavily traveled highway. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The highways and other major roads around Atlanta are some of the most congested in the eastern United States. Amazingly, despite the bridge collapse occurring during rush hour no one was hurt.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the intense fire burned for about an hour under the northbound lanes of I-85 before the collapse occurred.

The interstate runs directly through the city and is one of the major arteries of the Southeast. Officials on Friday said they have no idea when it will reopen.

Gov. Nathan Deal said repair of the bridge and surrounding roadway will be a long process. Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said Friday the damage to the Interstate impacts both the north- and southbound side of the road that normally carries 250,000 cars a day, and that it will require extensive reconstruction.

The impact of the collapse was very much in evidence Friday morning. Streets in Atlanta were clogged, and traffic was bumper to bumper in nearly every direction.

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

McMurry put it another way.

“Make no bones about it … this will have a tremendous impact on travel.”

While officials know the fire started in an area used to store construction materials, equipment and supplies, they still have no idea why it became engulfed in flames.

Gov. Deal told reporters that 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 said. “But those are questions that will hopefully be answered at least by tomorrow morning.”

Atlanta Fire Department spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford told the Associated Press 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 said.

Deal said 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 said. “I can assure you we will do everything to expedite the repair and replacement of that section of the bridge.”

Compounding the traffic situation Friday is a scheduled exhibition baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees.

The game is the Braves’ first in their new SunTrust Park stadium. About 20,000 season-ticket holders were expected to attend.

On Friday morning, the Braves encouraged fans to adjust their plans and take mass transit where possible. The new stadium is located in the northern Atlanta suburbs near the interchange of I-75 and I-285.

“Traffic patterns in Atlanta will be adjusted for everyone, so please listen to local authorities as they direct you around the metro area,” the team said in a statement. “Also, we encourage all fans to purchase their parking before they leave today.”

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