Major highway collapse shows Atlanta’s overreliance on roads

Traffic continues to back up in the Piedmont Heights and Lindbergh areas of Atlanta as drivers are rerouted around the section of Insterstate 85 that closed following a bridge collapse. (© Henry Taylor)

Thousands of commuters can personally attest to Atlanta’s dependence on roads after a major highway overpass caught fire and collapsed during peak rush hour Thursday. While fortunately there were no reported injuries or fatalities, the aftermath of the fire and subsequent bridge collapse has resulted in traffic-snarled streets and raised concerns about how Atlantans will get around their city for the foreseeable future. 

It also underscores the need for greater resiliency in Atlanta’s transportation system. Like the snow storm that shut down Atlanta’s roads in 2014, the bridge collapse serves as a reminder that our over-reliance of roads puts us at risk if those roads cease to function.

Sections of Interstate 85, one of Atlanta’s major highways that approximately 250,000 cars pass through every day, have been closed until further notice, with estimates that the repair could take weeks or months to complete.

"This is about as serious a transportation crisis as we can imagine," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told reporters yesterday. "My message to all of you is get your MARTA [Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority] maps out."

To serve commuters seeking alternative ways in which to get around the city, MARTA has increased service throughout the metro area with extended hours and additional staff.

Atlantans have clearly demonstrated their appetite for greater investment in transit. Last year, City of Atlanta residents approved the most significant funding increase for MARTA in the system’s history. The bridge’s collapse underscores the need for smart investments that expand on these types of transportation choices and increase meaningful access to transit.

“This is a perfect example for why Atlanta can no longer be beholden to its highways,” said Senior Attorney Brian Gist. “This kind of catastrophic event underscores the need for a Plan B for the region—a robust set of transportation choices that don’t involve driving.”

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