UPDATE: The Georgia Department of Transportation is reporting that multiple damaged sections of I-85—both northbound AND southbound—will have to be removed and replaced. That's a gap of about 700 feet total on both sides. Replacement will take at least several months, officials say.
Unless you live under a rock, you know that a section of Interstate 85—all northbound lanes heading out of Midtown Atlanta, in fact—collapsed during a massive fire earlier tonight.
In a press conference, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called the situation a worst-case scenario in terms of vehicle transportation. The destruction of one of the most critical interstate corridors in the Southeast (a route used by more than 250,000 cars daily) is going to be a tough pill to swallow.
The collapse knocks out I-85 and Ga. Highway 400, just north of the Brookwood Split with Interstate 75.
At an 11 p.m. press conference, a Georgia State Patrol official said all southbound I-85 lanes will be closed Friday near the site of the collapse, too.
So between Midtown and I-285, using an interstate that swells to about a dozen lanes is not an option for the time being. Which is unreal.
Miraculously, no one was seriously injured in the fire and collapse, but flames were so intense they required the use of foam-spraying trucks from Atlanta’s airport, usually reserved for the heat of airplane crashes.
The source of the fire is believed to be large spools and stacks of material—PVC piping and possibly wiring—that was being stored beneath the interstate for some unspecified purpose. How it ignited is not yet known, a Georgia DOT spokesperson said late Thursday.
The transportation crisis is such that an official State of Emergency has been declared. All DeKalb County schools are closed Friday.
Now that the fire is out, it's time to sort out how Atlanta can continue to operate until the bridge is rebuilt. (The outlook is pretty grim; WSB-TV quoted engineering sources Thursday who said rebuilding could take months.)
Mayor Reed advised in a press conference to "get your MARTA maps out ... because that is going to be your best option for the next four, to six, to eight weeks." When pressed about the timeline, he admitted that his numbers were just guesses.
Of course, MARTA isn’t an option for everyone, so for those who don’t have access to MARTA (or GRTA), here are some of your best options for northbound travelers; just reverse if you are heading south:
For those staying Inside the Perimeter:
- Peachtree Street/Road — From Midtown, take Peachtree Street across I-85 and into Buckhead. From Peachtree Road, you will be able to access many of the east-west connector streets to get to your destination, or back to Georgia Highway 400 or I-85 to continue north.
- Cheshire Bridge Road — While Piedmont Road is closed, take Cheshire Bridge Road north under I-85, where it becomes Lenox Road. From Lenox, you can access Buford Highway or head into the heart of Buckhead.
- Lindbergh Drive — Another option for those on the eastern side of Midtown or Buckhead is to take Lindbergh Drive to Piedmont Road, north of I-85. From Piedmont, you can access Buckhead.
- Buford-Spring Connector — While currently closed for inspection, hopefully the four-lane Buford-Spring Connector (which was originally the I-85 corridor for the first few decades of the interstate system) will be reopened to allow a direct detour around the collapse.
- Piedmont Road — The road will likely be closed for some time, but will hopefully reopen to allow motorists to travel between Buckhead and Midtown as the bridge above is reconstructed.
For those heading through the city:
- Interstate 285 — For those just passing through Atlanta, get off I-85 onto I-285 near the airport. Follow the Perimeter around for nearly 30 miles, and merge back in with I-85 northbound beyond the chaos.
- Interstate 75 to Interstate 285 to Interstate 85 — For those starting their journey in the heart of the city, one option is to take The Connector to the Brookwood Split, but instead of jumping on I-85, take I-75 north to I-285. Head east on I-285 until you hit I-85 northbound at Spaghetti Junction and you can easily continue north. Allow a lot of extra time, especially on weekdays.
- Interstate 20 to Interstate 285 to Interstate 85 — For those starting on the southern side of the city, south of downtown, Take I-20 eastbound to I-285 north. After 13 miles, you’ll meet up with I-85 to continue northbound from Spaghetti Junction.
— Curbed Atlanta editor Josh Green contributed to this post