The Georgia Department of Transportation is partially responsible for a fire that caused a section of interstate to collapse last year in Atlanta, federal investigators said in a report released Wednesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in the report that the department’s decision to store construction materials under the bridge increased the risk of fire, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The report cited what the NTSB says was the department’s “failure to assess the increased fire risk due to the presence of these combustible materials.”
The collapse on March 30, 2017, affected 350 feet in each direction of a busy section of Interstate 85 and further snarled Atlanta’s already notorious traffic for six weeks.
“Although catastrophic fires fueled by materials stored underneath bridges are relatively rare events, the loss of this structure demonstrates what can happen if bridge owners are not vigilant about monitoring and controlling such materials,” the agency said.
GDOT said in a statement that it cooperated in the preparation of the NTSB’s national alert and appreciates the “valuable guidance.”
“We are hopeful that these recommendations from the NTSB will be instrumental for other relevant agencies and departments of transportation across the country to prevent instances like this from happening elsewhere,” the statement said.
The state agency said it has already taken steps to make sure nothing like that happens again in Georgia.
“Last year, GDOT made changes in its storage practices within hours after the bridge collapse, and we remain committed to building on the changes we have already implemented, which specify no storage of flammable or combustible materials under bridges,” the statement said.
Police have said Basil Eleby, a homeless man, was using drugs under the bridge when he set fire to a chair on a shopping cart under the bridge and the fire spread to high-density plastic conduit stored under the bridge.
Eleby was charged with arson, but his case was transferred in December to Fulton County’s Behavioral Health Treatment Court. The charges against him will be tossed if he completes a mental health court program.
A report from the state fire marshal last year said GDOT should reconsider storing construction materials under highways.