(SL) – It was an astonishing sight for sure. I-85 near Piedmont Road in flames, smoke billowing and then about 700 feet of the bridge collapsed. Thank God authorities stopped traffic before it collapsed. No injuries, no deaths just bumper to bumper traffic. If you have to take the good with the bad, considering Thursday’s fiery incident.
The massive blaze started under the bridge around 6:15. The AJC reports, the bridge on I-85 northbound just south of Ga. 400 near Piedmont Road collapsed about 7 p.m., Atlanta fire spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford confirmed. No injuries to motorists or first responders were reported.
Officials said they still don’t know how long it will take to fix the bridge, but they agree there is no underestimating the headache that awaits commuters.
“The cork is in the bottle” Department of Public Safety Director Mark McDonough said. “It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.” Drivers coming southbound into Atlanta on I-85 will get no further than Cheshire Bridge Road or they can hit the ramp back to I-85 North, McDonough said.
If you’re driving north into the city on the connector, you’ll have no choice but to take I-75 North at the point where the two interstates split. Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell R. McMurry said the catastrophic incident significantly affected I-85 and the broader transportation network.
Mayor Kasim Reed said late Thursday he’d spoken with the FBI “and at this time there’s no evidence of terrorism.” He said city officials will be working to assess the bridge throughout the night.
“This is as serious a transportation crisis as we could have. The governor has been leading and we have been acting on it,” Reed said. “Our primary concern, first and most important, is that no one has lost their life. And as we stand here right now, we think that’s the situation.”
Stafford said a cause of the fire can’t be determined at this time because inspectors can’t get under the bridge due to structural concerns. “The entire bridge is compromised,” Stafford said. “Right now, it’s still dangerous to go under there.”
Deal said Georgia Department of Transportation inspectors are on the scene and that the construction crew that built the bridge has been contacted to look at the schematics and determine how long it will take to repair.
He said the cause of the fire is not yet known but “the speculation I’ve heard is that there are some PVC products that caught fire.”