I-20 BUCKLES: Lanes reopen at the heart of morning commute

by: Tom Regan, Nefertiti Jaquez, Richard Elliot Updated:

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Metro Atlanta drivers already faced with detours from the I-85 bridge collapse as well as major morning rush hour headaches that resulted from a chemical spill that shut down the Downtown Connector also had to deal with the sudden buckling of I-20 westbound in DeKalb County Monday.

All lanes of I-20 westbound were closed for several hours after the highway buckled Monday morning. Around 4:30 p.m., crews reopened two lanes. They reopened a third lane just after 5:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

All lanes were open by 6 a.m.

Channel 2’s Tom Regan and his photojournalist were the first crew to arrive at the road buckle, just minutes after it happened Monday.

“It was a bizarre sight. The roadway completely buckled up in the air. Some people I spoke with said it looked as if an earthquake had happened under the roadway,” Regan reported.

The road buckled just before noon Monday, shutting down all lanes of the interstate as emergency officials tried to figure out what caused it. 

[READ: How to get around the I-20 road buckling]

Atlanta Gas Light said the damage was related to work from a contractor.

“We can confirm an Atlanta Gas Light contractor was performing work in the area to retire a casing,” company spokeswoman Laura Creekmur said.

Southern Company said a contractor was conducting the routine construction process of filling an empty, non-gas carrying underground pipe sleeve with a cement grout. They said overflow of cement led to the interstate buckling.

GDOT said during a late afternoon news conference that they are not sure of the extent of the damage. 

“It is unknown how deep we will have to go to excavate, which will be the biggest hurdle to how quickly we can get this section of the road put back together,” GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale said.

While a couple of the westbound lanes opened Monday evening, drivers were already bracing for an awful morning commute on Tuesday.

“It's going to be terrible in the morning, super terrible,” driver Chayanne Jefferson told Channel 2’s Nefertiti Jaquez. "I drive right there every morning. It's going to be hard getting to work and I can tell you that."

Carl Baloney owns a transportation company. He told Jaquez he was concerned about how he will make deliveries on time.

"My time and my gas, it's really going to mess my business up," Baloney said. "The city is just going to be congested, every street, every back street."  

Drivers already impacted by I-85 bridge collapse

Drivers in Atlanta are still weary of local roads after a raging fire caused part of Interstate 85 to collapse just north of Piedmont Road in March.

Bridge collapse

The interstate is expected to be completed by mid-June at the latest.

“We've been working 24 hours a day around the clock to put all hands on deck to make sure this roadway can be opened as soon as possible,” Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry told Channel 2’s Richard Elliot.

Basil Eleby, 39, is charged with first-degree arson for allegedly starting the fire that led to the collapse of the I-85 bridge near Piedmont Road.

According to an affidavit by a fire department lieutenant, the suspect admitted to frequenting the area where the fire was set and acknowledged being there on Thursday afternoon at about the time the fire started.

Eleby and two others, Barry Thomas and Sophia Brauer, were charged the next day in connection with the fire.

Eleby told investigators from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that he’d met Thomas and Brauer there at about 4 p.m. and they “discussed smoking crack cocaine together.”