Officials with the Georgia Department of Transportation announced Tuesday, April 4, that they hope I-85 at Piedmont Road in Atlanta will be reopened by June 15.
In related news, the state DOT has called for an investigation of its policies and procedures for storing material beneath the interstate.
The incident occurred on March 30 and has led to traffic hell for Atlanta commuters.
State officials updated the public about the project during a press conference.
Construction Director Marc Mastronardi said there will be incentives in the contract for early completion of the work as well as penalties for the construction taking longer than planned. The project will use a 24-hour accelerated curing concrete that will add to the expense but also speed up completion. GDOT did discuss putting a temporary structure in place while the work was completed, but concluded the site had too many challenges for it to be a workable solution.
The Georgia Department of Transportation says that about 700 feet of roadway – 350 on north I-85 and 350 on south I-85 – will need to be replaced.
There are a number of questions about the circumstances that led to the fire. Police allege Basil Eleby started the fire after a conversation about smoking crack under the interstate. According to news reports, including one from CBS 46, Eleby has allegedly struggled with addiction and homelessness.
But the GDOT also stored high-density polyethylene and fiberglass conduit under the bridge. GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said these materials were left over from a 2007 project that was cancelled after the contractor was found to be in default.
“GDOT had already paid for this material, so therefore we took possession of it when the project stopped [in 2008],” he said.
The materials were first placed at the intersection of Sydney Marcus Boulevard and Buford Highway before being moved under I-85 at Piedmont Road in 2011, he said.
“In an effort to save taxpayer dollars, GDOT chose to store the material in hopes it could be used for another project,” McMurry said. “The material was stored on state property, behind a fence with a locked gate. There was a sign placed that it was state property and no trespassing. The area was breached by an individual or individuals who allegedly trespassed on state property with the devastating outcome we are now dealing with.”
He said GDOT is cooperating fully with investigators and said he personally notified the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials about this in case other transportation departments want to review their policies about storing materials. He also asked the state fire marshal for assistance in reviewing the state DOT’s storage policies. The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the incident.
McMurry said he does not have any information suggesting GDOT was in violation of its policies regarding stored materials.
“Upon our review, we do not know we are in violation of any of our existing policies in place,” he said. “We are going to be very transparent and open. We look forward to a full completion of the investigation as well as the joint review.”
Editor’s note: This story was compiled by viewing a live video stream of the April 4 press conference.
Editor’s note and correction: Earlier reports said the fire occurred in Midtown, and while Midtown has felt the impact of the road’s closure, the fire technically occurred at the southern border of Buckhead.