US REGIONS

Feds send $10M for Atlanta interstate collapse, but no end in sight to traffic nightmare

Traffic trouble after the highway fire

 

The Feds are sending $10 million in emergency relief funding to help Georgia recover from the collapse of a key stretch of Interstate near Atlanta.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the move Friday, a day after a portion of I-85 collapsed. The funding will go to restoring short-term access to the site, as well the most urgently needed repairs to the bridge and damaged roadways over the next few weeks.

The funds won't stop problems for Atlanta commuters anytime soon.

“That’s why we built 285, y’all. “It’s the bypass."

- Mark McDonough, Georgia Department of Public Safety commissioner

“For 250,000 people, this stretch of I-85 is routine,” said Col. Mark McDonough, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. “The blunt fact of the matter is that routine has come to an end.”

The massive fire that caused the northbound lanes to collapse during the Thursday evening rush hour also damaged a portion of the southbound span. Today, Commissioner Russell McMurry,of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) told reporters three elevated sections of highway would need to be replaced in each direction before the interstate could be reopened to traffic.

“This will take at least several months to get this rebuilt,” McMurry said.

Authorities are still looking into the cause of Thursday’s fire, which burned through highway construction materials stored underneath the elevated interstate. The materials included high density plastic conduits for fiber optic and electrical wiring.

“It’s no different from having a plastic cup in your cupboard,” McMurry said. “It’s not combustible. It requires something to make it burn.”

Many Atlanta residents have altered their daily routes to avoid I-85, adding more traffic to surface roads. And state highway officials are urging travelers who have no plans to stop in the city, to use I-285, the highway that loops around Atlanta’s perimeter.

“That’s why we built 285, y’all,” McDonough said. “It’s the bypass."

This morning, Atlanta’s MARTA transit system increased rail services to accommodate the expected increase in travelers. By mid-day MARTA CEO Keith Parker was reporting a 25 percent surge in ridership.

With highway capacity already at a premium, the I-85 closure comes at a time of peak demand. This weekend, spring break gets underway for many area school students. And Friday evening, the Atlanta Braves will inaugurate their new stadium with a preseason game.

During construction of the new stadium, critics questioned the impact the facility would have on traffic at its location near the junction of I-285 and I-75 in suburban Cobb County. Now that I-75 is the only northbound interstate out of downtown Atlanta, traffic plans will be put to the test.

Despite the inconvenience, some residents and officials are putting Thursday’s disaster in perspective.

“The wonderful thing about this is nobody has been hurt or injured that we are aware of,” McMurry said.

Fox News’ David Lewkowict contributed to this report

Jonathan Serrie joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in April 1999 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Atlanta bureau.