I-85 in Atlanta will reopen in time for Monday’s morning rush hour commute and probably sooner.
The northbound lanes probably will be open sometime Saturday and the southbound lanes sometime Sunday, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said at a press conference Wednesday.
That puts the bridge's reopening at least a full month ahead of the original June 15 deadline.
"This is a day of celebration,” Gov. Nathan Deal said at the press conference, adding: “It demonstrates the can-do attitude Georgia has."
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I-85 has been closed in Buckhead since March 30, when a fire caused the highway to collapse. The fire allegedly was set by a homeless man and spread to construction materials the Georgia Department of Transportation stored under the bridge.
Contractor C.W. Matthews has been working round the clock since then and could earn up to $3.1 million in incentives for finishing early. GDOT has said the project will cost up to $16.6 million, including incentives.
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The construction process was sped up by the fact that there was only one full day lost due to rain, McMurry said.
Though the bridge may have stripes and look ready now, there are still certain things that have to be done, McMurry said. Workers must install expansion joints between beams, complete the pouring of concrete side barriers, do electrical work in the median for street lights, clean up construction debris and finally restripe the roadways, he said.
The final striping is expected to be done on Saturday and Sunday. The only variable is expected rain on Friday, but the bridge will absolutely be open Monday morning, McMurry said.
As in previous construction updates, McMurry reiterated that the bridge is “absolutely” safe. Inspectors were at the site 24 hours a day, putting in 2,500 hours. Safety was built into the process at every step from design and fabrication of materials to construction, inspection and testing of the materials, he said.
The federal government is expected to pay at least 90 percent of the cost of rebuilding the bridge. State lawmakers on Tuesday said they plan to seek millions of dollars more in federal help to pay for other expenses related to the bridge collapse, including an expansion of MARTA service.