Interstate 85 bridge collapse
|Date||March 30, 2017|
|Time||c. 6:05 p.m. EDT|
|Location||I-85 in Atlanta, Georgia, United States|
|Cause||Improper material storage, Arson (suspected)|
|Property damage||Three sections of northbound I-85 and three sections of southbound I-85 were replaced|
A massive fire collapsed a bridge on Interstate 85 (I-85) in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, on the evening of March 30, 2017. After the 92-foot-long (28 m) section collapsed, I-85 was closed to traffic for approximately two miles (3.2 km) between its split with I-75 and the interchange with State Route 400 (SR 400). Three sections of northbound I-85 and three sections of southbound I-85 were replaced in 43 days at a cost of $15 million USD.
Three individuals were arrested in connection with the fire, although the charges were later dropped. A NTSB report determined that the Georgia Department of Transportation contributed to the incident by unsafely storing materials under the bridge.
On March 30, 2017, a massive fire collapsed a section of the I-85 freeway viaduct in Atlanta, Georgia, stranding motorists for miles during rush hour traffic. The fire under the viaduct was allegedly "maliciously set" by a group of three individuals. The area of the collapse was along SR 237 (Piedmont Road) in the Piedmont Heights neighborhood north of Midtown Atlanta. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed described the situation as a "transportation crisis" and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency.
The fire started at approximately 6:05 p.m. in a state-owned storage area under the highway bridge which contained high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and fiberglass tubing. The heat from the fire caused the collapse of a 92-foot (28 m) section of I-85 northbound at 7:14 p.m. Fire crews had the blaze under control by about 8:00 p.m.
The highway was closed for an extended period of time in the area. No injuries were reported in the incident, and officials were credited with preventing casualties by stopping traffic and turning away onlookers. Terrorism or foul play was not immediately suspected. It was thought that other sections of the bridge may have been compromised from the heat of the fire. Inspections of the bridge prior to the fire reveal that the deck and superstructure were in good condition. Traffic data shows that both directions of a nearby point in the highway carried nearly a quarter million vehicles a day in 2015.
The closure of the highway put extra strain on surface roads and nearby highways until it was reopened. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) announced an extension of service in response to the incident. MARTA general manager Keith Parker reported ridership spiked by 25% the day following the collapse. Three sections of the southbound side of the bridge, which did not collapse, also had to be replaced. The incident had a devastating effect on many area businesses, one of which reported a 90% decrease in traffic, seeing only three to four customers for the remainder of the day of the fire and the day following.
Two weeks after the bridge collapse, President Donald Trump met with the first responders from the incident, commending them for preventing casualties following the bridge collapse. Trump agreed to send $10 million to the state of Georgia to assist in repairs and cleanup efforts.
Arrests and prosecutions
On March 31, officials arrested and charged three individuals in connection with the incident. Basil Eleby was charged with criminal trespassing and first-degree criminal damage to property for setting the fire, and two others were charged with criminal trespassing for being present when the fire was set. All three were believed to be homeless, though it was unclear whether they lived underneath the highway. The three were interrogated and taken to Fulton County jail, with the possibility of additional or upgraded charges as more evidence was developed. The charges against Eleby were later upgraded to first-degree arson, with his bail set at $200,000. An arrest affidavit indicated the three suspects went under the bridge to smoke crack. Eleby denied setting the fire, but one of the other suspects arrested said he watched Eleby put a chair on top of a shopping cart near some fiber optic wire, stored in PVC pipes under the bridge, and set the chair on fire. Eleby appeared in court on August 14, 2017. Prosecutors agreed to drop the arson charges if Eleby completed an 18-month mental health and sobriety program; Eleby successfully completed the program on February 28, 2020.
Repairs and detours
GDOT officials announced on April 4, 2017, that repairs could be completed by mid-June 2017. Traffic was diverted to I-285, I-75 and SR 400. In an effort to speed completion, up to $3 million in incentive payments were authorized for the contractor, C.W. Matthews Contracting Company, which completed work by May 12, when the northbound lanes of the bridge reopened. In August 2017, a fence was built around the underpass near where the bridge collapsed.
- NTSB (2018), Fire Damage to Bridge and Subsequent Collapse, Atlanta, Georgia, March 30, 2017 (PDF), National Transportation Safety Board, archived from the original (PDF) on August 18, 2018, retrieved August 18, 2018
- Judd, Alan (March 31, 2017). "Breaking: 3 in Custody in Connection with I-85 Fire, Bridge Collapse". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on April 1, 2017. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
- Winne, Mark (March 31, 2017). "Bridge Collapse: 3 Charged in Connection with I-85 Fire". Atlanta, GA: WSB-TV. Archived from the original on April 1, 2017. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
- King, Michael (April 11, 2018). "NTSB: GDOT partly at fault for I-85 Collapse". Retrieved August 18, 2018.
- Wootson, Cleve R., Jr. (April 1, 2017). "3 Charged in 'Maliciously Set' Atlanta Highway Fire May Have Been Smoking Crack". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on April 2, 2017. Retrieved April 2, 2017.
- Johnson, Alex (March 30, 2017). "Bridge Collapses in Atlanta Freeway Fire During Rush Hour". NBC News. Archived from the original on March 31, 2017. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
- Buchanan, Christopher (March 30, 2017). "Portion of I-85 Collapses in Massive Fire". Atlanta, GA: WXIA-TV. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
- Eldridge, Ellen; Habersham, Raisa (March 31, 2017). "I-85 Collapses After Massive Fire: 'The Entire Bridge Is Compromised'". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on March 31, 2017. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
- Peebles, Jennifer (March 31, 2017). "Last Inspection on I-85 Bridge that Collapsed Given Good Marks". Atlanta, GA: WSB-TV. Archived from the original on March 31, 2017. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
- Belcher, Richard (April 3, 2017). "MARTA Faces New Trial with I-85 Bridge Collapse". Atlanta, GA: WSB-TV. Archived from the original on April 8, 2017. Retrieved April 7, 2017.
- Carr, Nicole (April 1, 2017). "Business Owners Concerned About 'Devastating' Impact of I-85 Collapse". Atlanta, GA: WSB-TV. Archived from the original on April 2, 2017. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- Hallerman, Tamar (April 13, 2017). "Trump Meets with First Responders from Atlanta's I-85 Bridge Collapse". Political Insider. The Atlanta Journal-Constition. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
- "Man Charged in I-85 Bridge Collapse Appears in Court". Atlanta , GA: WAGA-TV. August 14, 2017. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
- Brasch, Ben (March 1, 2020). "Man accused of I-85 bridge fire graduates from treatment program". Atlanta, GA: Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
- Elliot, Richard (April 4, 2017). "Completion of Collapsed I-85 Could Be Completed by Mid-June". Atlanta, GA: WSB-TV. Archived from the original on April 4, 2017. Retrieved April 4, 2017.
- "One Day Later, We Still Don't Know What Caused Atlanta's I-85 Bridge Fire". USA Today. March 31, 2017. Archived from the original on April 4, 2017. Retrieved April 4, 2017.
- Wickert, David (May 12, 2017). "I-85 Northbound Lanes Reopen in Atlanta". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on May 13, 2017. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
- Habersham, Raisa (August 18, 2017). "Fence built around I-85 bridge collapse site to prevent trespassing". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
- Repair progress on April 16, 2017 on Google Maps Street View