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    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) MANDATORY CREDIT, ATLANTA TV OUT

    Georgia Interstate Bridge Closed After Fire to Re-Open Ahead of Schedule

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    Good news for Atlantans: the I-85 bridge that burst into flames less than two months ago will be reopening to traffic a full month ahead of schedule.

    The bridge, which has been closed since it caught fire in late March, will be reopening fully on May 15 instead of the previously announced date of June 15.

    The northbound lanes are to open on Saturday and the southbound on Sunday, according to Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) commissioner Russell McMurry. This means Monday rush hour traffic will be allowed to resume as before.

    "This is a day of celebration," Governor of Georgia Nathan Deal told reporters. "It demonstrates the can-do attitude Georgia has."

    "I am pleasantly surprised by the short time frame, and we all should be. It is a testament to the dedication of a lot of people."

    The bridge closed on March 30 when a fire was allegedly started by a homeless man beneath it, causing construction materials stored under the bridge to catch on fire. 

    The homeless man, Basil Eleby, has been charged with arson and destruction of property. His lawyers argue that the state is using him as a scapegoat to divert attention from GDOT, which they blame for the fire.

    The repairs have been estimated to cost $16.6 million, more than $3 million of which is likely to become incentives to contractor C.W. Matthews for finishing the project early. Ninety percent of the cost is expected to be paid by federal government. Georgia lawmakers are seeking additional funds from Washington to cover for other expenses related to the bridge collapse, such as the expansion of metro services.

    McMurry says that the bridge actually looks fine to drive over now, but there is still work to be done. Beams require reinforcement, concrete side barriers must be poured, street lights must be wired, debris must be cleaned up and roadways must be restriped.

    He also emphasized that the bridge is now "absolutely" safe, mentioning that inspectors were ensuring all safety procedures were being followed at every step.

    GDOT estimates that 243,000 vehicles cross the bridge on an average day.

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    Tags:
    bridge collapse, repair, highway, fire, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Georgia, Atlanta
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