National impact of the highway collapse in Atlanta

I-85 is a major artery for travelers and truckers moving around the southeast

Collapsed portion of I-85 in Atlanta (WSB)

(CNN) – Drivers in one of the nation’s most congested cities faced a jarring new reality Friday as they were forced to game out how to get around a collapsed portion of Atlanta’s Interstate 85. One of the Southeast’s major north south arteries.

The closure comes at a sensitive time with hordes of spring break vacationers poised to drive though the regional hub and the Atlanta Braves set to play a preseason game Friday night in their new stadium northwest of the city.

Russell R. McMurry, of Georgia Department of Transportation said, “The big question on everyone’s mind is how long will this take to repair?  We’re not able to give you a firm estimate. Again, that’s over 700 feet of bridge that has to be removed and totally rebuilt.”

Authorities have said it will likely be months before the section of a major highway in Atlanta will open again, following an overpass collapse Thursday evening.

That news drew cringes from commuters in what is already one of the nation’s most congested cities. But, it’s not just those who work and play in metro Atlanta that are effected. I-85 is a major artery for travelers and truckers moving around the southeast.

Mark McDonough, the commissioner of the Georgia Dept. of Public Safety said, “The interstate system just doesn’t affect Georgia. The interstate system was designed a long time ago to do what, to move commerce.”

It’s estimated that more than 220,000 vehicles per day use that section of highway, which leads in and out of downtown Atlanta, and many of those are big rigs transporting goods.

McDonough added, “And so all that stuff that we like in our modern life, in our societies, travels on these roadways. And when you punch a hole in it, time is money.”

The route is also a popular one used to get to Hartsfield Jackson, the busiest airport in the world. With spring break in full-swing, and summer holiday travels right around the corner, this “hole” in the road, is sure to disrupt some of those plans.

Authorities confirmed they have arrested three people, two men and a women, in connection with the fire that caused that segment of the interstate to collapse. Two have been charged with criminal trespassing, and one with criminal damage to property. That man, investigators believe, started the fire intentionally. All three are believed to be homeless.