Atlanta bridge collapse: Officials expect traffic nightmare while repairs take place

There is no way to tell when an Atlanta highway can safely be reopened following a massive fire that caused a bridge to collapse Thursday during rush hour, Georgia’s top transportation official said.

Interstate 85, which carries 250,000 cars per day, is a major artery for the U.S. South and a thoroughfare for traffic heading north and south through Atlanta.

"We will have to continue to evaluate the situation and adjust as we do," Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said. "This incident — make no bones about it — will have a tremendous impact on travel."

The inferno broke out at around 6 p.m. Atlanta fire officials told Fox 5 Atlanta the blaze caught giant spools of plastic utility conduits which were being stored under the overpass. The collapse occurred about an hour later. Foam trucks were eventually brought up from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to smother the remaining fire.

Officials have warned all motorists to stay off Interstate I-85. Alternate routes include taking Interstate 75 to Interstate 285 or Interstate 20 to Interstate 285.

"This is about as serious a transportation crisis as we can imagine," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said.

Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for Fulton County late Thursday and urged commuters to remain patient as the safety inspection begins and the bridge assessment continues.

"We're trying to determine everything we can about how quickly can we repair it and get it back in service," Deal said. "I can assure you we will do everything to expedite the repair and replacement of that section of the bridge."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.