With Interstate 85 through Atlanta severed like an artery following the major bridge collapse March 30, Georgia Dept. of Transportation officials have given a rundown of the damage, the repair plan and exactly when they expect vehicles will again be driving on the rebuilt section of I-85.

Even with the I-85 bridge out, it may be that the impact on freight movement through the area will be less than some had feared, points out transportation blogger Ken Harper. One big reason he cites: "most trucks have to take I-285 to go around Atlanta, not through it."

But certainly, for freight that needs to get to Atlanta and merchants and other businesses in the city, this is a huge concern, and passenger car overflows onto alternate routes could swell traffic loads on other routes trucks rely on. Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry put it this way: "Our full focus and attention has to be on getting I-85 opened, first and foremost, as quickly as possible."

:: Here's a rundown of the situation and the plans to get this resolved:

What happened?

• McMurry summarized information that's been released about what caused the sustained, intense fire that ultimately led to the collapse of the I-85 bridges above it. The state had stored materials including high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, and fiberglass conduit materials — plastic piping used for things like road wiring, essentially — at the Piedmont Road site where the bridges burned.

The extra materials had been stored there since about 2011 and were left over from an incomplete 2007 project where the contractor went into default, so the state kept the materials to use perhaps in another project.

The materials were fenced off with no-trespassing signs. The fire, which is still being investigated, was set deliberately by one or more individuals.

McMurry says he believes the state was within its policies for materials storage in this case, and notes that this collapse site is an anomaly and was the only such storage location of materials of this kind. He has asked for a statewide review of storage policies in light of this event and has informed DOT officials nationally of this potential situation to "make this a learning opportunity for the nation."

Nuances of the collapsed bridges

• According to GDOT Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle, the collapsed I-85 bridges were built in 1984 and last inspected Aug. 23, 2015, and at that time were deemed in good condition with normal wear for their age and type.

One complicating factor in this case is that bridge beams used for the collapsed spans of highway are outmoded and different than what's in standard use today. Rather than fabricate those same older beam types — which the state says would've taken much longer — the plan is to rebuild the bridges to a modern standard using current beam designs.


April 12, 2017