It is setting up to be a long, hot summer for metro Atlanta commuters, though truckers needing to navigate around a suddenly broken interstate highway that runs through the heart of the city may have it somewhat easier.
Thursday night's fire and subsequent collapse of an elevated section of Interstate 85 just north of Atlanta's downtown area is likely to shut the heavily travelled, 10-lane artery for several months. The raging fire, believed to have been set by three homeless people clustered under the elevated span, broke out about 6 p.m. Within an hour, a section of the northbound side of I-85 had collapsed, shutting down the artery in both directions. It is a nightmare come true for the thousands of motorists who rely on that section of the interstate to move around the congested region. About 243,000 vehicles travel over the affected area alone each day, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Truckers are prohibited from using the region's three primary interstates, I-85, I-75, and I-20, within its perimeter highway, I-285, unless they are making local pickups and deliveries. Once beyond the perimeter, truckers can use I-75, which parallels I-85 through the city before branching off toward central Georgia and the west coast of Florida to the south, and toward Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan to the north and northwest. Interstate 20 is an east-west artery that heads toward Alabama to the west and Augusta, Ga., to the east.
I-85 is a 668-mile span that runs north to Petersburg, Va., just south of Richmond, and south toward Montgomery, Ala.
Though truckers have safety valves around I-85, there is little doubt that the location of the affected stretch will create headaches for goods movement. The re-directing of commercial vehicles is likely to further stress arteries that are already horribly congested.
The convergence of I-285 and I-85, an area known to locals as "Spaghetti Junction" for its five-level stack interchange that resembles a concrete pretzel, was named in January as the country's most congested truck interchange for 2016 by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the trucking industry's nonprofit research group. It was the second straight year the interchange captured the dubious honor.