Object taped to bridge closes Downtown Connector

Staff writers Ariel Hart, Alexis Stevens, Ty Tagami and Ben Gray contributed to this article.

Sure, you’ve been on the Downtown Connector when nothing was moving. You’ve even seen the Connector when nothing was moving but a runaway zebra and the motorcycle cops chasing it.

But you’ve never seen the Connector like this. Fourteen lanes as empty as a set for “The Walking Dead” – minus zombies or zebras.

A driver on I-75/85 Monday afternoon spotted a tubelike object duct-taped to the east side of the 14th Street bridge. Atlanta police closed the bridge and immediately quarantined all 14 lanes of the freeway northbound and southbound. The bomb squad moved in and took a look: the suspicious package looked suspiciously like a soda can wrapped in duct tape.

About 3:55 p.m., the bomb squad rigged an explosive charge to the object and detonated it, duct tape, soda can (or whatever) and all, blasting a black smudge onto the bridge and blowing the suspicious object to smithereens.

Then a Georgia Department of Transportation inspector pronounced the bridge sound, and the Connector reopened, first the southbound lanes, then the northbound lanes, before 5 p.m. GDOT said the inspector found nothing to indicate structural damage from the explosion. Motorists will see soot on the bridge from the detonation, but authorities say that is not an indication that any damage was done.

Of course, you can’t cancel the Downtown Connector for nearly three hours on a weekday afternoon and not ruin somebody’s day. In addition to I-75/85, police also closed the 14th Street bridge itself, of course, plus several exit ramps and nearby streets.

“Yep. This traffic was my afternoon,” said one correspondent on the AJC’s Facebook page.

“I ran out of gas,” said another. “And had 2 get towed. This is ridiculous!! I couldn’t even stay warm, and I almost starved!!”

Social media was humming with rumors that the suspicious object was a kind of long-exposure camera focused on downtown.

As of Monday evening, however, APD still wasn’t saying what it thought it had blown up or why it thought it was safe to blow it up.

“The only description we provided was ‘tube-shaped’ object duct taped to the outermost portion of the 14th Street bridge,” said Atlanta police officer Ralph Woolfolk. “Investigators are currently gathering additional information and the incident is still under investigation.”

It was five years ago this month, by the way, that a zebra escaped from the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus and, having no understanding of Atlanta traffic, headed for the Downtown Connector as an escape route.