ATLANTA - It was one of the biggest headaches in Atlanta’s modern history: The Interstate 85 bridge collapse.
It will be remembered alongside the Snowjam 2014, the Falcons’ epic Super Bowl loss and the massive power outage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
We all can remember how the bridge collapse impacted our daily lives. It made commutes across metro Atlanta longer, and hellacious for those inside the perimeter.
We're speaking to the one-time suspect in the bridge fire and collapse, on Channel 2 Action News at 5 p.m.
It was around 6:30 p.m. on March 30, 2017, when smoke started to billow from an overpass on I-85 in the Piedmont Heights area of midtown Atlanta. A few minutes later, Channel 2’s Jovita Moore and Justin Farmer went on air on Channel 2 Action News with incredible live video of huge flames shooting in the air. Thick, black smoke blanketed the area and could be seen across Atlanta.
The intense heat from the raging fire eventually caused a 100-foot section of the bridge to collapse onto the road below. It was unlike anything anyone has ever seen in Atlanta.
Astonishingly, no one was hurt. No drivers caught in the traffic. No bystanders drawn to the massive flames. No first responders. No one.
It was the view from NewsChopper2 that revealed the nightmare to come: A huge, gaping hole in one of the most-traveled roads in Atlanta.
Officials ranging from the Georgia Department of Transportation to then-Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed warned drivers that traffic was going to be terrible for the unforeseeable future. They asked commuters to use alternate transportation, such as MARTA, to ease the congestion on Atlanta roads. Reed even suggested for people to telecommute, if they could.
Despite the warnings from officials, drivers who had no choice but to brave the roads immediately felt the intense traffic impact.
Two of the most congested cut-throughs were Lindbergh Drive and Peachtree Hills Avenue in Buckhead, as drivers make their way from Piedmont to Peachtree Road.
"If you're trying to get onto Lindbergh you'll be waiting on a side street and it'll be like 10 minutes that you're waiting and no cars are moving," Peachtree Hills resident Rachel Thompson said at the time.
"I've been stuck behind cars completely blocking intersections when my light turns and we miss a light and that's another 15 minutes of sitting still in your car," Peachtree Hills resident Allie Priede told Channel 2 Action News.
Other problem areas included Montgomery Ferry Road in Ansley Park and Habersham Road in Buckhead, as drivers tried to avoid getting stuck on Peachtree.
At the same time, GDOT officials and contractors worked around the clock to end the Atlanta traffic nightmare.
Workers constructed new support columns and beams, pouring thousands of pounds of special quick-curing concrete, which allowed the project to be completed weeks earlier than planned.
The day after the bridge collapse police arrested a homeless man, Basil Eleby. They said he set fire to a chair, which ignited the materials under the interstate.
Eleby was charged with first-degree arson and criminal damage to property.
In December, a judge agreed to let Eleby avoid prosecution if he completed an 18-month diversion program.
President Trump even addressed the collapse. He traveled to Atlanta and met with the first responders.
The magic date that all of Atlanta was waiting for was May 15, just six weeks after the spectacular collapse of one of the city’s most important transportation infrastructure.
The newly constructed northbound lanes of the I-85 bridge were the first to reopen on Friday, May 12, and the southbound lanes opened Saturday afternoon.
Channel 2’s Matt Johnson reported drivers were honking with joy as they powered over the spot where nothing used to exist.
"My normal 10-minute commute became a 40-minute commute, so as soon as this gets going again, it will be much better," driver Erin McFadden said.
Dan Garcia, the president of the contractor, C.W. Matthews praised his team for the work they did to complete the project.
"These guys worked hard, and I think they should be commended for the work they've done the last 45 days,” Garcia said.
In the end, the bridge collapse will soon fade into the uniquely Atlanta folklore. People will forever remember where they were when it happened and how it impacted their daily life. But there's one thing we can all say: Let it never happen again.
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