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Fire causes interstate bridge collapse in Atlanta

The collapse forced the closure of a portion of Interstate 85 and workers are continuing to remove scorched debris from the area


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ATLANTA—Georgia transportation officials hope to finish rebuilding a key interstate bridge by mid-June after a large fire caused its collapse last week.

Authorities have said the fire was started by a man under the bridge in an area north of downtown Atlanta. The collapse forced the closure of a portion of Interstate 85 and workers are continuing to remove scorched debris from the area.

Georgia Department of Transportation officials said they will offer financial incentives to contractors to meet interim deadlines and have the bridge repair done by June 15.

The closed section of I-85 is a key link to some of the city’s biggest suburbs. It carries about 400,000 vehicles a day in a city where there are surprisingly few alternative routes for its size.

Acknowledging the spike in train and bus riders, Georgia’s governor pledged state financial assistance for agencies providing more frequent transit service and said he’s seeking more federal aid for that same purpose.

State officials urged private companies to allow employees to work from home and asked commuters to consider mass transit.

Crews are working around the clock to remove scorched debris from the collapsed bridge. A portion of Interstate 85 remains closed as drivers are being redirected to alternate routes to bypass the wrecked bridge.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last week released $10 million for the initial repair work, and the Federal Highway Administration promised more in emergency repair funds.

Authorities said the fire was started by a man who had talked about smoking crack prior to the fire that broke out under the bridge in an area north of downtown Atlanta where the state of Georgia stores noncombustible construction materials. The blaze grew quickly with smoke billowing high above the city’s skyline before the bridge collapsed. Firefighters had already scrambled to safety and no one was hurt.

Basil Eleby was charged with first-degree arson and first-degree property damage. He remains in jail on a $200,000 bond. Two other people with him were charged with criminal trespass, authorities said.

Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said Monday that his agency will evaluate “all things” connected to the fire, including storage locations of construction materials.

“We certainly will be looking at all things to make sure that we never have a catastrophic event like this again,” McMurry said.


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