A raging fire, with flames reaching upwards of 40 feet, ignited Thursday evening underneath a northbound bridge on Interstate 85, a major roadway near downtown Atlanta, causing the overpass to collapse.
Authorities managed to clear traffic from the area before the bridge crumbled into the blaze below, at approximately 7:00PM EST. The were no injuries or fatalities resulting from the incident and the fire was declared under control around 8:00PM EST. The Georgia Governor has declared a state of emergency and Atlanta’s mayor has described the situation as a “transportation crisis.”
Traffic on Thursday evening stretched for miles, stranding thousands of motorists for hours. The southbound portion of the highway was also damaged, causing all lanes on the usually-busy I-85 to be blocked indefinitely in both directions. As of Friday morning, transportation crews still do not have access to the scene due to dangerous conditions, including ongoing flames and extreme heat.
According to GDOT, over 225,000 vehicles typically cross this section of I-85 on an average weekday. With one of the busiest highways in the Eastern U.S. closed, drivers can anticipate major confusion and congestion in the region.
This will especially impact the commercial trucking industry, for whom I-85 is traditionally an important route for transporting and delivering goods. Commercial truckers will have to find alternate navigation, keeping in mind that nearby detours may be unaccustomed to the high traffic volume that can be expected in the coming weeks and months. The fastest roadways may be well out-of-the-way of usual commercial routes.
Construction and equipment business will also be monitoring the situation for implications to the industry. The cause of the massive fire is a primary concern, as building companies and roadway workers would obviously like to prevent further incidents if the fire’s catalyst was related to any relevant materials or practices. Authorities are not linking the collapse to terrorism at this time and are reportedly investigating if large amounts of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping stored underneath the bridge could have ignited.
Moving forward, extended sections of the overpass and highway will be inspected for vulnerabilities, as large stretches were exposed to high temperatures, which can decrease the strength of materials, including concrete. Already additional sections of I-85 have been identified as compromised, including a major exchange that leads to the state Capitol.
The reconstruction and maintenance will be a large undertaking, lasting several weeks – possibly months – and requiring a number of companies, workers, and equipment in efforts to return the thruway to a safe standard of service.