GDOT: I-85 bridge could be open by mid-May

ATLANTA — Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue says he's pressuring the federal government to make it easier for crews to rebuild Interstate 85.

The state of Georgia is also now offering millions of dollar in incentives to finish the project.

“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.

[ATLANTA BRIDGE COLLAPSE: Live traffic map, alternate routes, MARTA parking tracker, more]

To do that, McMurry said the state is offering big financial incentives to get the job done even quicker than the original June 15 deadline.

If the contractors can get I-85 reopened by midnight on May 25, they'll get an additional $1.5 million bonus.


If they can get it reopened by May 21, they'll get a $2 million bonus. If they can get it opened even sooner, they'll get a $200,000 per day bonus.

If they hit all the benchmarks early, the contractors could see a bonus of $3.1 million.

“I think you can see from these kinds of incentives and bonuses that we are very serious about getting this roadway back open so that people can get back to their lives, not to have the adverse impact to business and the economy and people's daily commute,” McMurry said.

[8 things to know about the I-85 bridge collapse]

McMurry also took Perdue on a tour of the reconstruction site.

Perdue said he's working with the federal transportation department to clear away bureaucratic red tape to make sure this job gets finished fast.

“To imagine that this bridge could fail of this size and magnitude and in two and a half months, and it could be less than that, that we'd have this bridge reopened again is phenomenal,” Perdue told Elliot.

GDOT said it has a team of safety inspectors on location 24-7 looking over the work to make sure that, even though they want this job done quickly, they don't want to cut any corners on safety.


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.”

Basil Eleby

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Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne was the only reporter to talk to both witnesses.

[READ: Second witness charged in I-85 fire: 'I got scared and I started running']

GDOT announced after assessing the damage from the fiery collapse it would have to replace at least three sections northbound and three sections southbound.

They said repairs will take at least a few months and have asked drivers to be patient, and take either MARTA or carpool as an alternate. Those who must drive are asked to use Interstate 285 as an alternate.

The Department of Public Safety says the area of the bridge collapse is "now is a construction site."

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