Atlanta faces toughest test after fallen highway overpass
Commuters are bracing for big rush hour traffic jams and delays at the start of their first full work week since the fiery collapse of a major Atlanta interstate bridge.
By JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr., Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) - Traffic appeared light Monday morning as the first full workweek opened since the fiery collapse of a major Atlanta interstate bridge, complicating the city's already challenging commute.
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The Southeast's largest city faced a tough test even as crews continued working around the clock to remove scorched debris from the collapsed bridge weakened by a fierce blaze on Thursday. A portion of Interstate 85 remained closed as commuters were redirected to take alternate routes to bypass the wrecked area.
Overall, fewer cars were on the road than usual Monday because all metro Atlanta public schools are out for spring break this week.
Commuter Randy Kessler said he left his home north of the city a tad earlier than usual around 7 a.m. to drive into the downtown area. He said he didn't experience any major traffic heading south, but saw more traffic going north.
"This is going to help in the long run," said Kessler, a divorce lawyer. "It reminds me of the (1996) Olympics when people were terrified about driving downtown, but it was lightest traffic ever. It made people carpool more. I think Atlanta needed a little kick in the butt. We needed something to change our habits to make us rethink our daily commute."
However, an early morning crash involving at least four vehicles on Interstate 20, another major route carrying commuters into downtown Atlanta, killed one person and temporarily shut down lanes of that highway. The wreck forced motorists looking for an alternate way into work off the interstate and onto side streets earlier.
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.
Officials pledged after the collapse of the 350-foot section of Interstate 85 that a replacement bridge would be built as soon as possible, but could take months.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority said additional service will be provided.
Friday's commute the day after the fire saw major delays as commuters swamped Atlanta's mass-transit system and other highways. But that was with some schools and a number of nearby offices closed in the immediate aftermath of the fire.
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 rapidly grew with smoke billowing high above the city's skyline. It didn't take long before chunks of concrete weakened by the high heat began flying off the bridge, leaving firefighters scrambling away for safety. No one was injured.
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.
This story has been edited to clarify that authorities said the suspect talked about smoking crack prior to the fire rather than that he smoked it.
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