Breaking News: Portion of Interstate 85 Collapses in Atlanta

A portion of Interstate 85 near Piedmont Road in Atlanta collapsed within the past 90 minutes or so due to a large fire which is still burning underneath an elevated section of the busy highway, leaving traffic snarled and gridlocked all over many areas of the city.

Breaking News: Portion of Interstate 85 Collapses in Atlanta

Interstate 85 collapse in Atlanta

Click on the map for an enlarged view. Imagery ©2017 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2017 courtesy of Google Maps. Composite graphic illustration by Brian Cohen.

The highway will not be opening anytime soon in either direction even though the section of only the northbound direction has collapsed. Thankfully — and amazingly — no one was reported injured or killed as a result of this incident.

Smoke can be seen as far away as the new SunTrust Park baseball stadium in Cobb County miles northwest of the city.

The cause of the fire is unknown at this time; but this section of Interstate 85 is basically a viaduct which has had a lot of items stored underneath it for years. The collapsed section actually helped to extinguish a significant portion of that fire. Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have no reason to believe that this incident was the result of an act of terrorism or purposely caused by criminal activity.

Special fire trucks — such as the one shown in the photograph above — from the international airport which serves the greater Atlanta metropolitan area

Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

Special fire trucks — such as the one shown in the photograph above — from the international airport which serves the greater Atlanta metropolitan area were brought in to fight the rest of the fire, which was apparently petroleum based and extremely flammable.

Bridge inspectors are currently en route to the scene to inspect the damage.

Fortunately, the incident occurred just after rush hour in Atlanta — but that is of little solace for the foreseeable future. Motorists are expected to be stuck in their vehicles for hours.

The last time traffic in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area was paralyzed of this magnitude was during a major ice storm in January of 2014.

What This Means For You

The collapse occurred north of the central part of Atlanta; so if you have business in downtown Atlanta and you are arriving from the international airport which serves the greater Atlanta metropolitan area, you should not be directly affected…

…but if you have business in areas of Atlanta such as Buckhead and the Perimeter, you will need to find alternate routes from the airport.

Georgia State Highway 13 is a highway with limited access adjacent to Interstate 85; but with only two lanes each way, it will be clogged with traffic even more than usual — but it is better than it not being there at all. Currently, the Buford Connector — which this section of Georgia State Highway 13 is better known as — is also closed even though it should be structurally sound.

The problem is that traffic is already compromised under normal conditions during the busiest hours of the day; but with a major artery out of commission, traffic is expected to be exponentially worse as a result until further notice.

Interstate 285 — which is also known as The Perimeter — is also an alternative on either the east side or west side; but traffic on portions of the highway can be horrendous under normal conditions as well.

Interstate 75 is another alternative — arguably the best of all alternatives, as there is a portion of the highway between Moores Mill Road and Northside Drive in both directions that is rarely clogged with traffic — but near downtown Atlanta as well as in Cobb County, traffic can back up for miles under normal conditions.

High occupancy vehicle lanes which normally require two or more occupants in vehicles will temporarily require three or more occupants during busier hours; so plan accordingly.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority — which is known more popularly as MARTA, which is the transit system of Atlanta — will be operating as normal tomorrow.


I was unable to get anywhere near the scene of the incident due to the sheer logistical “nightmare” as many people have described it; but local television stations in Atlanta are covering this incident with continuous coverage.

I am reminded of the collapse of the Nimitz Freeway in San Francisco during the earthquake in 1989 — but there were deaths on that specific portion of highway, which was then known as Interstate 980…

…but in this incident, I believe that there were no fatalities because the smoke from the fire was so thick, immense and black that motorists could not possible see while driving through that; and that probably prevented motorists from driving off of the viaduct.

Emergency crews are descending onto the scene from all over the greater metropolitan area as I type this article to assist with securing the area.

Interstate 85 is a major highway artery which serves the southeastern United States between Interstate 65 in Montgomery in Alabama and Interstate 95 in Petersburg in Virginia south of Richmond. In addition to Atlanta, other cities along the route are Auburn, Greenville, Spartanburg, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Durham.

If your travel plans take you to Atlanta in the foreseeable future, ensure that you leave enough time to adjust to this impediment.

Imagery ©2017 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2017 courtesy of Google Maps. Composite graphic illustration by Brian Cohen.

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