Atlanta area residents are finding ways to commute, absent one of the city’s main traffic arteries, after officials said it will take “at least several months” to rebuild a portion of a bridge that collapsed on Interstate 85 on March 30. The highway typically carried 250,000 cars a day.
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,” said Georgia State Patrol Commissioner Mark McDonough.
The fire erupted about 6:30 p.m. and the northbound lanes collapsed about 7 p.m. Despite the destruction of the roadway, no injuries were reported.
“The big question on everyone’s mind is how long will this take to repair?” he asked. “We’re not able to give you a firm estimate at this moment but you should know that this will at least several months to get this rebuilt.”
McMurry said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao authorized $10 million dollars to pay to replace the bridge.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency and hinted the road ahead could be long.
“Despite our coordinated efforts, this will be a long process,” he said after meeting with federal and state transportation officials. “This is due, in part, to the fact that bridge beams must be cast, poured, tested, transported and individually installed.
Although the portion of the bridge that collapsed was about 180 feet long, bridge inspectors have said they will have to remove and replace at least 700 feet of roadway, including support columns.
In the meantime, residents may have to rely on mass transit to get around. Atlanta officials encouraged commuters to consider using the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, to get around.
Just one day after the fire, authorities arrested three people in connection with the fire. Authorities said they believe the three are homeless and were living in the vicinity of where the fire took place.
The man suspected of setting the fire is Basil Eleby. He has been charged with arson and the judge set bond at $200,000. He was arrested Friday with two other suspects: Sophia Bruer and Barry Thomas.
Police records show Eleby has had 20 arrests dating back to 2000, mostly for possessing and selling drugs and assault.
The arrest affidavit for Eleby states that he said he passes through the area around the Interstate 85 overpass often on his way to work. He said that at about 4 p.m. on Thursday he met the woman and Thomas under the overpass where they discussed smoking crack cocaine together.
“They discussed smoking crack cocaine together,” the affidavit said. “It was decided by Mr. Eleby that he would consume the drugs by himself.”
Thomas told authorities he watched Eleby “place a chair on top of a shopping cart, reach under the shopping cart and ignited it.” He also said he woke up Brauer, who had gone to sleep, and they left the area, going in the opposite direction as Eleby, according to the arrest affidavit.