I-85 in Atlanta will reopen this weekend

Construction crews hard at it Monday, May 8, 2017 getting the median wall between southbound and northbound I-85 ready for concrete. Gov. Nathan Deal announced Wednesday that I-85 will reopen in time for Monday morning’s rush hour. JOHN SPINK/AJC
Construction crews hard at it Monday, May 8, 2017 getting the median wall between southbound and northbound I-85 ready for concrete. Gov. Nathan Deal announced Wednesday that I-85 will reopen in time for Monday morning’s rush hour. JOHN SPINK/AJC

I-85 in Atlanta will reopen this weekend — just six weeks after the collapse shuttered one of the main highways into the heart of the city.

Northbound lanes should reopen sometime Saturday, and southbound lanes should reopen Sunday, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. That would mean I-85 would be open in both directions for Monday morning’s commute.

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“This is a day of celebration,” Gov. Nathan Deal said Wednesday at a press conference announcing the highway’s scheduled opening, adding: “I

I85 Timelapse update

t demonstrates the can-do attitude Georgia has.”

I-85 has been closed in Buckhead since March 30, when a fire caused the highway to collapse. A homeless man, Basil Eleby, has been charged with setting the fire, which spread to construction materials GDOT stored under the highway.

Since then, contractor C.W. Matthews has been working round the clock to rebuild 350 feet of the highway in each direction. GDOT originally said the bridge would be open by June 15. Just last week, it said I-85 would reopen before May 26.

GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said Mother Nature has helped speed the project — the contractor has lost only one full day to rain.

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Another big factor in the speed of construction: incentives for early completion built into C.W. Matthews' contract. If the highway opens this weekend as planned, the contractor stands to earn an extra $3.1 million.

Since a fire led to the collapse of a segment of I-85 in Buckhead March 30, the Georgia Department of Transportation has scrambled to reopen the vital stretch of highway into the heart of Atlanta. Officials now say the collapsed bridge will open May 26, ahead of the previous June date. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
Since a fire led to the collapse of a segment of I-85 in Buckhead March 30, the Georgia Department of Transportation has scrambled to reopen the vital stretch of highway into the heart of Atlanta. Officials now say the collapsed bridge will open May 26, ahead of the previous June date. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

With the full incentive, the reconstruction project is expected to cost $16.6 million. The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to pay 90 percent of the cost.

The federal government is also expected to pay millions more for extra mass transit, traffic control and other costs associated with the bridge collapse.

MORE: Rebuilding I-85 a complex process

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The contractor must still install expansion joints in the bridge spans, finish pouring concrete side barriers and install streetlights in the median. It also must finish striping the pavement and sweep and clear the highway of construction debris.At a press conference Wednesday, McMurry said it's too soon to say exactly when the lanes will open this weekend. Friday's forecast calls for rain, which could affect some of the remaining work.

But McMurry and Deal pledged I-85 would be open by Monday morning.

“I am pleasantly surprised by this short time frame,” the governor said.

With construction moving so quickly, some commuters have wondered whether it’s safe to drive on the new bridge. McMurry said GDOT inspectors have worked round the clock at every phase of construction to ensure the work was done well.

“Absolutely, it is safe,” he said. “All the testing has been done. It’s safe, and it’s a quality project.”

The closure of one of Atlanta’s busiest highways has played havoc with commuters’ lives.

Other highways and some local streets became more congested as motorists detoured around the construction. Many turned to MARTA and other transit agencies, which expanded service to meet the increased demand.

On Wednesday MARTA CEO Keith Parker said the agency will work to “hold on to every one of those people” who tried mass transit for the first time because of the bridge collapse. He said the agency soon will announce discounted monthly passes and other measures to keep them riding.

Nonetheless, the agency plans to scale back some of the service it added after Monday, Parker said. The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority — which added routes after the bridge collapsed — also will go back to normal operations.

MARTA does plan to keep the additional parking it acquired after the bridge collapsed, a spokesman said.

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