A car fire has blocked all westbound lanes of I-20 at Hill Street.

Storms complicate Atlanta’s afternoon commute

5:10 p.m. Update: Storms and possible tornadoes threatened to complicate Atlanta’s afternoon commute. But traffic was generally light on area highways.

An accident on southbound I-285 at Church Street was causing some congestion on the Perimeter. The left and middle three lanes were blocked.

Meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal announced he has asked federal authorities for more money to cover any extra costs local transit agencies incur because of increased ridership. And the state’s top transportation official said Georgia will reconsider storing construction materials under state bridges.

11:40 Update: The Georgia Department of Transportation has reopened Piedmont Road under I-85 in both directions. One northbound lane and three southbound lanes are open. The road will remain open until 9 p.m., when it will close for additional work. It will reopen at 5 a.m. Tuesday and remain open indefinitely.

8:54 Update: The Atlanta Police Department has shut down Peachtree Street between 7th Street and 10th Street because of a homicide investigation.

8:45 Update: With  rush hour traffic starting to ebb, the Georgia Department of Transportation is cautiously declaring the morning commute a success of sorts.

With the exception of the I-20 fatal accident that shuttered all westbound lanes for several hours, traffic was lighter than expected.

“I think things have gone pretty well,” said State Traffic Engineer Andrew Heath, who spent the morning monitoring traffic at GDOT’s Transportation Management Center.

Many school districts are on spring break, and that helped, Heath said. But there are still trouble spots, including the Buford Spring Connector, Cheshire Bridge Road and Sidney Marcus Boulevard.

Heath said the department has changed the lights on Cheshire Bridge and Sidney Marcus to accommodate the extra traffic generated by the closure of Piedmont Road.

Looking ahead to this afternoon’s commute, beware: there’s a serious risk of severe storms that could compound Atlanta’s highway problems.

8:19 Update: One problem area this morning: The Buford Spring Connector. GDOT spokesman Scott Higley said motorists appear to be disregarding the department’s advice that all but local traffic avoid the connector. It’s packed and moving slowly as drivers try to use it as a detour around the I-85 bridge collapse. Higley said it’s not built to serve that purpose.

Another problem: Drivers on nearby local streets like Piedmont Road are blocking intersections as they wait to get through red lights. Higley said they’re making things harder on everyone.

“It just diminishes the flow (of traffic) in every direction. Traffic doesn’t move at all,” he said. “Then those people who are blocked get mad and do the same thing.”

7:43 Update: Congestion remains a problem on I-20 near Hill Street, though traffic is moving.

Elsewhere, traffic is heavy on the top half of the Perimeter and west of I-75 on the southern Perimeter. The Connector downtown also is seeing heavy traffic.

7:34 a.m. Update: The Atlanta Police Department has released details of the fatal I-20 accident.

The department said it was called to the scene at 3:42 a.m. It said the victim was driving his Hyundai Elantra westbound on I-20 when he struck a Nissan Murano from behind, causing it to spin out onto the shoulder.

The victim's vehicle became disabled in the road, the department said. After checking on the driver of the Murano, the victim returned to his vehicle. Then a Buick struck the disabled vehicle in the rear. A second vehicle, a Silverado, then struck the Elantra.

Police said those secondary collisions caused the vehicle to catch fire. The victim was outside the vehicle at the time of the secondary collisions. Police said the victim died from injuries on scene. The driver and both passengers of the Buick were transported to Grady Memorial Hospital.

7:24 a.m. Update: I-20 has reopened. 

Original story: A fatal accident and car fire on I-20 in Atlanta this morning have shuttered a second major highway leading to the heart of the city.

The accident has blocked all westbound lanes of I-20 at Hill Street near downtown. The Georgia Department of Transportation is advising motorists who need to reach downtown to take I-285 to I-75 north. GDOT says it will take at least an hour to remove the car and get I-20 traffic moving again.

The fire is one more things commuters have to worry about this morning. The biggest problem: last week’s I-85 bridge collapse that has closed the highway in both directions in Buckhead.

GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale said the agency has adjusted the timing of lights on Memorial Drive to accommodate the extra traffic traveling that road because I-20 is blocked.

Dale it appears many commuters have taken the agency’s advice and left for work early. “Unfortunately, a wreck beyond our control put a wrench in those plans,” she said.

Dale said the best advice she can give motorists is to plan ahead, use a wayfinding app and be kind to other motorists. “We’re all going through the same things,” she said.

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