GRI Current Events Blog

Fire Causes the Collapse of I-85 in Atlanta

GRI Research Assistant

Apr. 8, 2017

On Thursday, March 30, a fire underneath Atlanta’s I-85 caused an elevated section of the highway to collapse. Though the main collapse occurred on the northbound side, damage to the southbound lanes has forced closure of the entire highway. The fire, which authorities believe was intentionally started by a homeless man named Basil Eleby, caught high density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes on fire. At the time of the blaze, the pipes were being stored under the highway by the state. It was described as a 40 feet or higher wall of fire, which caused massive amounts of smoke, as well as numerous power lines to fall and arc in the streets. Regardless, commuters continued to drive over the bridge. A lack of nearby hydrants resulted in firefighters needing to fight the blaze with tanker trucks of water. Eleby has been charged with first degree arson and criminal damage to property, and two others who were with Eleby have been charged with criminal trespassing.

Atlanta Interstate 75/85 – Wikimedia/ Atlantacitizen

With around 250,000 drivers using I-85 every day, the highway shutdown will likely cause problems for the already congested city. Government offices opened an hour late the day after the fire to allow for the delays. Luckily, the first week after the collapse was a school vacation week, cutting down on transportation complications. As the city moves forward, the Georgia Department of Transportation is advising residents to use Atlanta’s public transit system. The Georgia State Patrol Commissioner, Mark McDonough, says residents should come up with alternate routes and adjust to the “new normal.”

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao ordered officials to award $10 million for repairs to I-85. The president of C.W. Matthews, the company leading the repair project, announced April 4th that they will be completed by June 15, with multiple crews working 24/7. Though only 250 feet of the bridge were destroyed, in order to make the stretch of highway safe, about 700 feet will have to be replaced. The repair plans were finalized in just three days by a team of engineers, and include a few measures to speed up the repair process. These include: incorporating modern beams that can be manufactured quicker, using more expensive accelerated-curing concrete, and retrofitting some columns rather than completely replacing them.


Sources and Additional Reading

I-85 collapse: Three arrested after major fire under Atlanta highwayCNN

Three transients arrested in Atlanta highway bridge collapseReuters

I-85 to reopen by June 15, officials sayAJC

Atlanta Highway Collapse Causes Headache for CommutersWBUR

Atlanta I-85 collapse: Highway could be fixed by June 15CNN

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