Atlanta’s notoriously tangled commutes were thrown into disarray Friday after a massive fire caused a bridge on Interstate 85 to collapse, completely shutting down the heavily traveled highway through the heart of the city.
Traffic was bumper to bumper on nearby streets as people scrambled to find alternate routes after the fire broke out during rush hour Thursday afternoon. However, officials said 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 said.
As a result of the interstate damage, many commuters in some of Atlanta’s densely populated northern suburbs will be forced to find alternate routes or ride public transit for the foreseeable future.
Georgia’s top transportation official said 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 in the northbound lanes leading out of the city.
“We will have to continue to evaluate the situation and adjust as we do,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said. “This incident — make no bones about it — will have a tremendous impact on travel.”
McMurry said Friday in a news release that bridge inspectors have determined the southbound lanes of I-85, adjacent to the section that collapsed, also were damaged by the fire and will need to remain closed for the foreseeable future.
He said the fire started in an area that was used as a storage location for construction materials, equipment and supplies. Authorities were still working to determine how the fire started.
The interstate is a major artery for the U.S. 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 said.
For some motorists, Thursday’s snarl brought back nightmares from…