How Atlanta's I-85 Nightmare Was Fixed in 42 Days

Back in March, a bizarre fire took out one of Atlanta’s most important highways during afternoon rush hour. It was the part of I-85 that connects about half of north Georgia to Atlanta and handled an average of 246,000 cars per day in 2016, more than any other individual highway that feeds into the city.
The fire was allegedly started when crack smoking ignited a bunch of construction material stored underneath an elevated portion of I-85 and it was big enough for me to see the smoke all the way from my apartment in Roswell, more than 20 miles north of the city. The sheer heat caused a large section to collapse and it compromised even more. Initial Georgia DOT estimates claimed it would reopen around mid June.
42 days later and a month ahead of schedule, that section of I-85 reopened thanks to the non-stop efforts of the Georgia DOT (who I’ve never seen work faster than this), CW Matthews Contracting Company, and everyone else involved. As all of Atlanta breathes a sigh of relief and gets back to their normal, slightly less miserable commutes today, check out this incredible time lapse showing what it took to rebuild I-85. Hopefully it never has to happen again. The time lapse would’ve been more accurate if it featured a thrash metal backing track to better reflect Atlanta drivers’ moods, though. Also, don’t smoke crack.
[Sources: YouTube, AJCtraffic statistics from Georgia DOT]

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14 responses to “How Atlanta's I-85 Nightmare Was Fixed in 42 Days”

  1. P161911 Avatar

    The three million in bonus money helped.

  2. longrooffan Avatar

    I just hope they allowed the concrete enough time to cure but congrats to all. Enjoy that overtime pay.

    1. Greg Kachadurian Avatar
      Greg Kachadurian

      According to the contractors, they used some special materials which dried and strengthened much quicker than normal stuff but at a greater expense. I drove over it last night so it’s probably okay 😀

    2. hwyengr Avatar

      High-early strength concrete is magic. You can get the full design compressive strength in as few as 3 days. Instead of 28. They may also have used pre-cast deck beams, which just need to be lifted into place.

      1. P161911 Avatar

        They did use the pre-cast deck beams.

      2. longrooffan Avatar

        I am under the impression that, over time, putting that “heat” in the mix causes the concrete to become prematurely brittle. I know we are talking about 20-25 years into the future so maybe not such a big concern for this oldman. Still, an impressive feat.

  3. 0A5599 Avatar

    They used the wrong music.

  4. Sjalabais Avatar

    That’s not what you’d normally think of when saying “Chinese conditions”…impressive.

  5. gerberbaby Avatar

    So now every other DOT in the country should feel foolish. Its taking a year to replace 1 section of bridge in Minnesota. I realize it costs more, but we don’t even try. And we waste money in other ways….The ruling class priorities are different than mine…

    1. hwyengr Avatar

      It doesn’t just cost more. It costs orders of magnitude more. There are lots of bridges and roads to fix, we can’t spend 5x more just to do them quickly.

      1. P161911 Avatar

        There was serious bonus money on the line for this job. But they even beat the earliest deadline. It was $3.1 million to finish before May 21 and went down by about a million a week for the next month or so from there. One thing that did help is that they had almost ideal weather conditions for 99% of the time during the project. they said during normal project crews worked 45-55 hours/week on this project crews were working 75-80 hours/week.

    2. salguod Avatar

      Back in 2015 there was a very similar situation where a burning tanker under an I70 east bridge damaged the structure. Traffic was rerouted within 2-3 days and the bridge replaced in less than a month. Oh, and the bonus was under a quarter of a million.

  6. dukeisduke Avatar

    I imagine Georgia DOT is rethinking the habit of storing materials (especially coils of PVC pipe) under bridges in metro Atlanta. Sure, this was an accident, but a lot more of these incidents could happen, given people with nefarious motivations.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      Yep, GDOT started looking at exactly what was under their bridges before the ashes even cooled. Of course that doesn’t mean that they are going to evict all the trolls though.