What You Need to Know About the I-85 Bridge Collapse

Does your road trip route take you through Atlanta? You’ll probably want to reconsider now that a major artery has been closed due to the I-85 bridge collapse.

On Thursday, March 30, 2017, a major fire burned on the street below Interstate 85. The heat was so hot and the fire so intense that a section of I-85 northbound collapsed. The fire also affected sections of I-85 southbound. Both bridges will need to be replaced. And until the bridges are replaced, this section of interstate will remain closed.

The good news is that there were no injuries or fatalities from the fire or the I-85 bridge collapse. And that authorities do not think it was terrorism or a criminal act.

The bad news is all the traffic nightmares.

This was basically the most critical square of interstate that went down. It is at the intersection of three major arteries – I-85 and GA-400 and the I-75/85 split. It’s so bad that Georgia’s Governor, Nathan Deal, declared a State of Emergency the same night as the fire. He didn’t even need to wait until daylight.

I predict that it will take about six weeks to complete. This will be an all-hands-on-deck round-the-clock operation to get fixed. But that’s just a guess. As of Friday morning, March 31, there were still hot spots that Atlanta Fire Department were working on. And major kudos to the AFD, APD, State Troopers, HERO units, and everyone else for their work on this! Their work and expertise kept people from getting hurt when the bridge collapsed. A round of applause for these first responders!

Update April 4, 2017: Georgia Department of Transportation officials say that the bridge will be repaired by June 15, 2017!

Update April 12, 2017: The GDOT officials are hoping that the bridge will re-open in mid-May. They are offering $3.1 million in incentives. All 13 of the damaged columns have now been repaired. Delivery of the big beams begins next week and 20 have already been constructed. Progress!

Update May 2, 2017: GDOT says that they expect the bridge to be open before Memorial Day weekend! This is great news for all those planning trips around the holiday weekend! The AJC has more on the incentives for the contractors to finish early.

Georgia transportation officials seem to grasp the urgency of the task ahead. GDOT commissioner Russell R. McMurry said bridge inspectors were at work before the fire was extinguished last Thursday night, and by Friday they’d determined that about 350 feet of bridge in both northbound and southbound lanes of I-85 would have to be replaced. GDOT hired C.W. Mathews Contracting Co. of Marietta to begin demolition, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it would send $10 million in emergency relief dollars to assist with cleanup and initial repairs. (AJC: How Atlanta can speed up I-85 repairs, April 3, 2017)

Footage of the fire from above

Traveling Through Atlanta

If you are traveling through Atlanta and not stopping or staying here, we recommend that you find a different route.

Traffic was already bad on a good day. RV driving was difficult before the I-85 bridge collapsed. Now, it’s going to be a nightmare.

Obviously, you will not be able to use I-85 to go from downtown to the northside of the city. You will not be able to use GA-400 to get through the city either. I-75 is still open but will handle more traffic than normal.

Many commuters in the city will take to side roads to get around this. But you don’t want to be driving your RV on these roads. Many of the local roads are small, curvy and full of potholes. They are not suitable for RV driving and now there will be extra traffic volume making the situation worse.

To and From Florida

The best recommendations for RVers that would normally travel through Atlanta are to just avoid the area all together. We recommend that long-haul drivers take Interstate 95 along the east coast or Interstate 65 through Alabama. If you take 95, you can use Interstate 26 through South Carolina to connect back in with Interstate 85. Interstate 40 will also be useful for many that live further north.

Interstate 65 through Alabama will also get you north of the Atlanta mess. You can then use Interstate 59 to connect back with Interstate 75 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Or continue up Interstate 65 to Nashville.

Reverse all those directions if you are headed south to Florida.

Listen to the fire dispatch radio traffic and pictures from the I-85 bridge collapse

Can’t Avoid Atlanta? Your Options

If you can’t avoid Atlanta, then you will need to go around the affected area. Interstate 285, the ring around Atlanta, will be your friend. If you are a frequent traveler through these parts, you are probably already familiar with I-285. It may be a longer route, but we highly recommend it to avoid downtown traffic. The northside of I-285 has the worst traffic though and you’ll want to avoid during rush hours. (No that was not a typo – it is rush hours, plural, here in Atlanta.)

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) shows how interstate traffic will be diverted until the I-85 bridge collapse is repaired:

GDOT map of detours for I-85 bridge collapse

Interstate 20 cuts east-west across Atlanta. If you are driving south and need to get downtown, you’ll want to exit I-85 at I-285 (Spaghetti Junction) and take I-285 East/South to I-20 West into downtown Atlanta. If you are heading to the airport, take I-285 west to get to Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

Although Interstate 75 itself is not blocked, traffic will be diverted onto the interstate, creating heavier than normal traffic. We recommend that you avoid the downtown thoroughfare. From Interstate 75 South, you’ll take I-285 West/South to I-20 East to get into downtown Atlanta. Or continue on I-285 until you reach I-75 to continue on your travels past Atlanta.

We do recommend that you check the Atlanta Braves schedule before you hit the road though. The I-75 and I-285 interchange on the north end of the city will be a mess before and after Braves games. This is where the new Braves stadium is located and locals (RV Tailgate Life included) were already cringing at the thought of that traffic. The local subway/mass transit system Marta does not serve the new SunTrust Park, so all the fans will be driving to the ballpark. Since it is still a new ballpark, we expect that attendance will be high during the first few weeks of the new season.

Local Traffic Around Atlanta

What you need to know about Atlanta area travel after the I-85 bridge collapseAn estimated 250,000 drivers a day go through, under, and over the section of I-85 bridge that collapsed. That’s a major headache for the surrounding area to deal with.

If you are already in Atlanta, you will want to get around to see major attractions. Everyone recommends you utilize Marta as much as possible. Marta has announced that they will increase service for the time being. Marta has also started a new page on their website that lets you check parking availability at the stations. Check before you leave so you know which station you can park at. Also consider using Uber or other rideshares to get to the Marta stations. Uber announced a special for Atlanta users using Uber Pool for trips that start or end at a Marta station.

AJC: First Time Riders Hit Marta After Bridge Collapse

Piedmont Road, running underneath the I-85 bridge, will be closed for awhile. Local roads, Sidney Marcus and Cheshire Bridge, will be a mess for awhile. The Buford Highway Connector that runs parallel to the interstate will have intermittent closings so don’t count on it either.

You can use Peachtree Road, Briarcliff Road and North Druid Hills Road locally around the bridge collapse.

Unfortunately, this is going to affect Sweetwater Brewery and the Lenox Mall/Buckhead area in massive ways. The Emory/Clifton Corridor/CDC area is expected to take on more traffic as well.

Please, We’ve Heard All The Jokes About the Falcons Already

No need to send us the jokes about this being the worst collapse since the Falcons. Or about Sherman burning the city. Or about the General Lee jumping the gap. We’ve already heard and see all the memes. We’ve already lost our humor about it. Traffic is expected to be that bad.

Check Back For Updates on the I-85 Bridge Collapse and Repairs

We will work to keep you updated on travel through Atlanta. Unfortunately, for now, we recommend that you just avoid Atlanta unless you are making this your destination. We’ve got lots of great things to do in the area and everything will still be open except that stretch of highway.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter to get more updates!


Kimberly

Kimberly is the owner of a Tiffin 34PA and the former owner of Starter RV, a 1990 Winnebago Chieftan. She can be found cheering for Georgia Tech, traveling the world, or working on the RV (because there's always something to do on the RV). Don't ever underestimate what she can whip up in the kitchen or accomplish on no sleep. Find out the latest from Kimberly by signing up here.

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