Atlanta faces toughest test after fallen highway overpass

In this aerial image made from a video provided by WSB-TV, a large fire that caused an overpass on Interstate 85 to collapse burns in Atlanta, Thursday, March 30, 2017. Witnesses say troopers were telling cars to turn around on the bridge because they were concerned about its integrity. Minutes later, the bridge collapsed. (WSB-TV via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — Commuters are bracing for huge rush hour traffic jams and delays Monday as the first full workweek opens since the fiery collapse of a major Atlanta interstate bridge.

And the rush hour headaches could just be the start of traffic tieups that could last months.

The Southeast’s largest city faced a tough test starting early Monday even as crews continued working around the clock to remove scorched debris from the collapsed bridge weakened by a fierce blaze on Thursday. Officials pledged after Thursday’s collapse of a 350-foot section of Interstate 85 that a replacement bridge would be built as soon as possible, but could take months.

The bridge is the key link to some of the city’s biggest suburbs.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority said additional service will be provided.

The closed section of I-85 is a key link to Atlanta’s northern and northeast suburbs. It carries about 400,000 vehicles a day in a city where there are surprisingly few alternative routes for its size.

Friday’s commute saw major delays as commuters swamped Atlanta’s mass-transit system and other highways. But that was with some schools and a number of nearby offices closed in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

Authorities said the fire was started by a man who was smoking crack under the bridge in an area north of downtown Atlanta where the state of Georgia stores noncombustible construction materials. It rapidly grew with smoke billowing high above the city’s skyline. It didn’t take long before chunks of concrete weakened by the high heat began flying off the bridge, leaving firefighters scrambling away for safety. No one was injured.

Basil Eleby was charged with first-degree arson and first-degree property damage. He remains in jail on a $200,000 bond. Two other people with him were charged with criminal trespass, authorities said.

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