Saturday, 24 June, 2017

Court appearance set for man suspected in Interstate 85 fire in Atlanta

Craig Ferguson | 02 April, 2017, 01:29

Commuters in Atlanta have been struggling to get to work on time the morning after a section of Interstate 85 collapsed, forcing them to find alternate routes.

He is one of three suspects arrested March 31 following the fire that caused the I-85 bridge near Piedmont Road in Atlanta to collapse.

In the meantime, Atlanta commuters, particularly from outlying suburbs, are predicted to face substantial ongoing delays.

Basil Eleby, who was originally charged with only criminal damage to property in the first degree, is now also charged with arson in the first degree, both felonies.

The interstate is a major thoroughfare for traffic heading north and south through Atlanta.

A man who was watching as a section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta collapsed said he heard several explosions under the bridge and then a slow rumbling as the structure collapsed.

Experts in structural engineering said fires on highways and bridges rarely burn long enough or hot enough to cause a complete collapse - but it has happened. Firefighters shut down the section of highway before it gave way and made it to safety after hearing the road cracking and seeing concrete go flying, authorities said.

Eleby is accused of setting fire to a state-owned lot under I-85 on Thursday, causing a piece of the highway to collapse.

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In a statement posted to GDOT's website, McMurry said the area under the bridge where the fire started is "part of the state's right of way that was utilized as a storage location for construction materials, equipment and supplies". But prosecutors upgraded his charges to arson on Saturday after investigators said Eleby intentionally set the fire.

Herrmann said concrete will undergo severe cracking at about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit and start disintegrating at higher temperatures. "This is such a rare thing to occur".

It is too early to say how long it will take to fix the highway, he said.

Amelia Ford, who lives in Atlanta, opted to find another route to work by vehicle Friday said it took her 45 minutes to travel 3 miles from her home to the nearest open interstate exit.

"We're trying to determine everything we can about how quickly can we fix it and get it back in service", Deal said. That's 350 feet of highway - almost a football field - in each direction, he said. Amelia Ford picked a new route to drive to work and said it took her 45 minutes to travel 3 miles from her Atlanta home to the nearest open on-ramp to the interstate.

Demolition began this weekend, and the U.S. Department of Transportation has jump-started the rebuilding effort with $10 million in federal funds.

Built in 1953 and renovated in 1985, the span scored high in its most recent inspection, receiving a rating of 94.6 out of 100 in 2015, said Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman for Georgia Transportation Department.

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