Atlanta already has a reputation across the country as being one fo the cities you don’t want to ever drive through, especially during rush hour. Well last night traffic into and out of the city got a whole lot worse. A major fire under an interstate bridge left commuters scrambling to find other ways to work and city officials begging employers to “work with employees who are late for work, for the next few months.”
This mornings commutes were left hopelessly gridlocked around the city after a bridge on Interstate 85 collapsed amid a massive fire, shutting down the heavily traveled highway through the heart of the city. Traffic was bumper to bumper on nearby side-streets as people searched to find alternate routes after last nights fire which broke out during rush hour Thursday afternoon.
Fortunately, fire department officials in a statement to the media said no one was hurt despite towering flames and plumes of thick black smoke that was captured in dramatic video footage taken at the scene. “This is about as serious a transportation crisis as we can imagine,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said.
The damage to the key throughfare through the city left many commuters in some of Atlanta’s densely populated northern suburbs in a bid to find alternate routes or forcing them to ride public transit systems for weeks or months. Meanwhile, 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.
DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said: “We will have to continue to evaluate the situation and adjust as we do. This incident — make no bones about it — will have a tremendous impact on travel.”
McMurry also confirmed that 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 near future. McMurry said the fire started in an area used to store construction materials, equipment and supplies. Authorities are still trying to determine a cause for the fire.
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.
Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency following the collapse, saying the state is mobilizing resources to minimize traffic disruption while emergency work continues. Locally, the city’s MARTA system has increased rail service and will have additional staff on hand to help passengers figure out how to get where they’re going.
Capt. Mark Perry of the Georgia State Patrol told the newspaper terrorism is not suspected. Currently officials believe that somehow PVC plastic materials in a vehicle may have caught fire. A Fire Department spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford said 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.'”