Atlanta bridge fire and collapse points to infrastructure problems

Bridge fire on I-85 visible from nearby apartment complex.

A fire under an I-85 bridge near downtown Atlanta caused it to collapse on Thursday evening, March 30, causing major traffic disruptions.

An eyewitness told The Examiner she could see the smoke from her apartment complex just off Peachtree Road near downtown.

Georgia Department of Insurance deputy commissioner Jay Florence said that the fire was intentionally started, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported April 2. Three suspects are being charged in connection with the fire: Basil Eleby, Sophia Bruner and Barry Thomas.

Just as the I-35 W. Mississippi River bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007, which killed 13 people and injured 145, prompted public outcry to repair transportation infrastructure, this latest high-profile failure has led some to ask if there are problems that, if ignored, could lead to tragedy.

The I-85 bridge brought down by fire was last rated at 78 percent sufficiency back in August 2015. But eight out of the 445 bridges in Jefferson County are already structurally deficient, according to a report from the Federal Highway Administration last updated Dec. 31, 2016. An additional 73 bridges are functionally obsolete, according to the same report.

TX 124's bridge over Hillebrandt Bayou just off US 69 is seriously structurally deficient as of a July 2015 inspection but still open to traffic, according to the National Bridge Inventory's database. It was originally built in 1941 and rebuilt in 1972.

The bridge on Laurel Avenue crossing a drain ditch near I-10, originally built in 1950, is also seriously structurally deficient, the database says.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reported that 19 percent of all bridges in Texas — 9,998 of 52,561 — are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, as of Oct. 13, 2016.