Note: This article was first published in 2019. It has been updated.
First were the plumes of black smoke billowing from under the interstate. Not long after that, flames were clearly visible. Drivers passing by took photos and videos, posting them to social media. And as Atlanta watched live on Channel 2 Action News on March 30, 2017, a massive section of I-85 collapsed and threw the city’s already patience-testing traffic into gridlock.
An investigation determined a 39-year-old homeless man, Basil Eleby, set fire to an upholstered chair, which then ignited high-density polyethylene pipes the Georgia Department of Transportation was storing under I-85 near Piedmont Road. Arson charges against Eleby were dropped in exchange for him going through an 18-month diversion program.
On the first anniversary of the bridge collapse, the AJC took a look at not only what happened, but also how the Georgia DOT planned to keep it from happening again.
Contractors worked around the clock to rebuild the bridge in just six weeks.
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