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More debris falls from Peachtree building; roads closed until Irma passes

Roads will remain closed near an area of Peachtree Street where high winds tore off part of a high-rise building’s facade, Atlanta police said Monday.

At least one metal tile fell Sunday and about five additional pieces of debris fell from the 32-story building at 34 Peachtree Street on Monday.

RELATED: Police say high winds tore tile, debris off building facade on Peachtree

As a result, closures were reported on Peachtree Street at Auburn Avenue, Walton and Wall streets; Marietta Street at Broad Street and Park Place; and Edgewood Avenue at Peachtree Center Avenue. 

“Those roads will remain closed until the storm has passed the metro Atlanta area,” Atlanta police Officer Stephanie Brown said Monday.

Although no injuries have been reported, officials are also cautioning people to avoid Woodruff Park in the Five Points area.

“All pedestrian and vehicular traffic have been blocked,” Atlanta police Officer Donald Hannah said. “Barricades have been placed around the area affected.” 

The damage, however, has not led to any added closures.

High winds were reported in metro Atlanta ahead of Irma, which was downgraded early Monday from a Category 1 hurricane to a tropical storm, according to The Associated Press.

3 in custody in connection with I-85 fire, bridge collapse 

NEW: Suspect charged in I-85 bridge fire due in court

State investigators arrested three people Friday in connection with a fire that caused the collapse of a heavily traveled section of I-85.  

Jay Florence, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Insurance, which includes the fire marshal’s office, identified the three as: Basil Eleby, charged with criminal damage to property; Sophia Bruner, charged with criminal trespass; and Barry Thomas, charged with criminal trespass.  

“We believe they were together when the fire was set and Eleby is the one who set the fire,” Florence said.  

Eleby, 39, has been arrested 19 times since 1995, mostly on drug offenses, according to Fulton County jail records. He was last arrested in 2014 in Fulton County for the sale and trafficking of cocaine.

Authorities gave few details about how they identified the suspects. However, Florence and Glenn Allen, an insurance department spokesman, said investigators filed the charges after interrogating the three Friday afternoon. All three were taken to the Fulton County jail.  

Florence said officials do not believe anyone else was involved in setting the fire, which quickly engulfed construction materials stored beneath the interstate at Piedmont Road. Allen said the charges could be “upgraded” as investigators develop more evidence.  

Florence declined to say how the fire was started. However, he said the suspects used “available materials” at the site.  

All three may have been homeless, Florence said, although it is not clear whether they had lived at the site beneath the highway.

Officals late Friday still did not know how or why the fire may have started. 

The aftermath

The day after I-85 collapsed amid a massive fire and triggered closures on both sides of the interstate, Atlanta commuters learned that repairs are expected to take several months and that they should expect long-term closures.

And the work — demolition and cleanup at the site just south of Ga. 400 — began in earnest Friday.

Though there were no injuries in the collapse Thursday, it means a section of the busy interstate that roughly 243,000 vehicles traveled on daily is now out of service.

“This is a dynamic situation, and we’re learning as much as we can as time unfolds,” Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said during a news conference Friday at the fire site.

Officials suspected the blaze started when PVC products stored under I-85 caught fire.

“We are as eager as anybody to find out what caused this,” McMurry said.

RELATED: Gov. Deal: PVC pipes may be behind I-85 bridge fire

Still, McMurry didn't attribute the fire to the surplus construction material being stored there.

He said the material was a high-density plastic conduit used for cabling and fiber optic wire networks. He said GDOT was trying to get a fix on exactly how long the material had been there, and suggested it could be as long as 11 years.

But he described it as non-combustible and said it’s not uncommon for states to store materials under bridges.

That material doesn’t ignite on its own, McMurry said.

“It’s no different than having a plastic cup in your cupboard ... needs something to ignite it,” he said.

But photos from Google Maps show the site was clear of any stored material in July 2011. The materials first show up in Google Maps photos in April 2012 and appear to be untouched through the most recent photo taken in November 2016.

RELATED: These Atlanta roads are closed ‘indefinitely’ after I-85 collapse RELATED: Atlanta I-85 collapse: Alternative routes, detours for commuters RELATED: What section of Piedmont Road is closed from the 1-85 collapse? RELATED: I-85 collapses after massive fire: ‘The entire bridge is compromised’

The work ahead

Gov. Nathan Deal said despite coordinated state and federal efforts, “this will be a long process.” 

Each bridge beam must be “cast, poured, tested, transported and individually installed.”

Approximately six sections and 700 feet of the roadway — 350 feet northbound and 350 feet southbound — will be removed and replaced, including support columns, according to GDOT. Demolition started Friday and will continue into Monday.

The good news is Georgia won’t be left with the repair bill itself.

The federal government will chip in $10 million for temporary repairs, U.S. Rep. John Lewis told Channel 2 Action News. The state and federal governments will split the cost of a permanent fix.

Later Friday, President Donald Trump called the governor to approve federal disaster assistance through the Federal Highway Administration. Deal had declared a state of emergency Thursday night.

PHOTOS: How the Interstate 85 collapse is impacting Atlanta

About the roads

Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough said commuters are going to have to adjust their schedules and find alternate routes to work.

"That's why we built 285, y'all," he said.

The key areas:

-I-85 South is closed at the Ga. 400 northbound ramp, and traffic is being forced onto Ga. 400.

-Ga. 400 southbound is closed at Sidney Marcus Boulevard. The Ga. 400 ramp to I-85 North is open.

-Traffic is being forced off the Downtown Connector to take I-75 North at the Brookwood split.

-Traffic on I-75 South can’t take the ramp to the I-85 North exit.

-There is no access to I-85 South from Chamblee Tucker, Shallowford, Clairmont or North Druid Hills roads.

-Access to Piedmont Road was limited near the collapse.

-West Peachtree Street to the Buford Spring Connector Northbound and Piedmont Circle to the Buford Spring Connector Northbound have reopened.

RELATED: Map: Where Atlanta's I-85 collapse happened

 

Plan ahead

Officials tried to cushion the blow of heavy traffic with delayed starts for some government employees.

The start time for city of Atlanta and Fulton County government workers was pushed back to 10 a.m., and DeKalb County schools closed a day early for spring break.

RELATED: Social media merciless after DeKalb Schools close due to I-85 collapse RELATED: Bridge disaster quickly becomes political

Still, delays continued for hours early Friday. More were expected with the Braves’ exhibition game against the New York Yankees happening Friday night at SunTrust Park. But so far, traffic to the stadium had been light during the typical rush hour. 

Officials recommended people opt out of driving and take public transportation.

Since the interstate collapse, there has been a 25 percent surge in MARTA ridership, and with the surge, added services, MARTA CEO Keith Parker said.

The route from downtown Atlanta to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is about 17 minutes via MARTA, Parker said.

Alternate routes

-Through the Brookhaven and North Druid Hills areas, use Peachtree Road, Briarcliff Road and North Druid Hills Road, the Traffic Center reported.

-On the interstates, take I-85 South from Gwinnett County to I-285 South at Spaghetti Junction. Then use I-20 West into downtown Atlanta. 

-Take I-285 westbound across to the north side to get to Hartsfield-Jackson.

— Staff writers David Wickert, Greg Bluestein and Dan Klepal contributed to this article.

» For updated traffic information, listen to News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB and follow @ajcwsbtraffic on Twitter.

PICS: I-85 NB overpass collapses as crews battle massive fire

A large fire has caused an overpass on Interstate 85 to collapse.

New law allows Ohio drivers to run red lights with specific restrictions

A new state law in Ohio allows drivers to go through red lights in certain situations, but police are cautioning motorists.

The new state law allows drivers to go through red lights if the light isn’t working properly and only if the intersection is clear of oncoming traffic. Police said drivers still need to stop, and they can’t drive through a red light just because they are in a hurry.

>> Read more trending stories

"This is about safety," Kettering, Ohio, police Officer John Jung said. "We don’t want the driver to approach a red light, wait for a couple of seconds and determine that it is malfunctioning and then blow through a red light. You still have to proceed with caution."

Jung said city traffic laws are not always the same as state laws, so drivers need to make sure the law applies to the city in which they are driving. 

If a driver does go through a red light, he or she has the burden to prove it that was malfunctioning. 

"If they cause a traffic accident and it turns out the light was working properly, they will be the at-fault driver," Jung said.

Driving instructors said the new law has caused some confusion, with instructors needing to tell new drivers that it isn’t a free pass to run every light.

"This isn’t going to be an everyday occurrence," said D&D Driving School training manager Brent Praeter. "This isn’t something they need to do commonly at intersections when the light is red and feel (they) like they have been sitting for too long."

If a motorist does come across a light that isn’t working, he or she is advised to call police.

Driver rescued from school bus crash expected to be OK

A driver whose car was pinned underneath a special education school bus Tuesday is expected to be OK, Channel 2 Action News reported.

The crash shutdown all southbound lanes and one northbound lane of Austell Road near McDuffie Road for nearly two hours in Cobb County.

The car rear-ended the bus just before 7:10 a.m., Cobb police spokesman Sgt. Dana Pierce said.

At the time, the bus was headed to Sanders Elementary School in Austell, Cobb schools spokeswoman Donna Lowry said.

RELATED: 2 metro Atlanta school buses crash daily

While the seven children and two adults on the bus were not injured, the driver of the car was trapped for about 50 minutes, officials said.

A technical rescue team with crews from east and north Cobb assisted in the rescue of the trapped driver.

“They came together and were able to lift the school bus off the car, pull the car out and then cut the person out of a car,” Cobb fire battalion chief Chris Sobieski said.

The driver, who was conscious and talking, was taken to a local hospital by ambulance, he said.

The school’s principal and assistant principal went to the scene, Lowry said. The students and the adults were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. A replacement bus was sent to the scene to carry the students and the adults to their final destination. 

Sobieski said there have been more accidents this holiday season than normal.

“I hope people exercise a little more caution in the holiday season,” he said. “A lot of people want to get to their destinations safely.”

The cause of the school bus crash is still under investigation.

Lanes reopen on I-285, but delays heavy

Some lanes have reopened to traffic on I-285 northbound at Langford Parkway (Ga. 166) after a crash involving multiple vehicles Saturday, according to the WSB 24-hour Traffic Center.

However, heavy delays remained about 4:30 p.m.

» For updated traffic information, listen to News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB and follow @ajcwsbtraffic on Twitter.

Pothole damage costs drivers $3B a year, AAA says

Trending on Facebook

More popular and trending stories

A new study from AAA reveals that pothole damage has cost drivers around the country $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the last five years.

“Area drivers get that sinking feeling every time they hit a pothole,” AAA spokesperson Cindy Antrican said in a release. “They know there’s a price to pay, and 16 million drivers across the country have had to pay for pothole damage to their vehicles in the last five years.”

>> Read more trending stories  

According to AAA’s survey, middle- and lower-income individuals are the most worried about potholes, with the majority of respondents in households having annual incomes under $75,000 expressing the highest levels of concern over damaged roadways.

This is likely due in part to the financial impact, as pothole damage can lead to expensive and extensive vehicle repairs.

“On average, American drivers report paying $300 to repair pothole-related vehicle damage,” Antrican said. “Adding to the financial frustration, those whose vehicles incurred this type of damage had it happen frequently, with an average of three times in the last five years.”

To minimize vehicle damage, AAA urges drivers to ensure tires are properly inflated and have adequate tread depth, as they are the only cushion between a pothole and the vehicle.

If a pothole strike is inevitable, it is also critical that drivers slow down, release the brakes and straighten steering before making contact with the pothole.

To avoid potholes in the roadway, drivers should remain alert, scan the road and increase following distances behind the vehicle ahead.

Football games, Biden’s visit to jam Atlanta streets Thursday night

» Labor Day holiday in Atlanta | Dragon Con, free MARTA rides, rain

» Labor Day travel expected to grow for fourth straight year

» Survive the drive! How to handle Labor Day weekend traffic

You’ve been warned, Atlanta drivers. Streets will be busier than normal Thursday evening as football fans and the Secret Service roll through town.

Two football games will bring thousands of people downtown long before the kickoffs. The Atlanta Falcons will host the Baltimore Ravens at 7 p.m. at the Georgia Dome. It’s the Falcons’ final preseason game. Then at 7:30 p.m., Georgia Tech will kick off its football season vs. Alcorn State at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“Traffic is going to be terrible on the Downtown Connector and many of the big Midtown and downtown surface streets,” said Doug Turnbull, WSB traffic reporter. “Parking is limited near the Dome, and traffic is going to be bad anyway, so plan on taking MARTA.”

Vice President Joe Biden will also add to the traffic mess. Biden, considering a presidential bid, will be speaking at an Atlanta synagogue Thursday evening. But due to security concerns, the route for Biden’s motorcade will not be released.

Other big weekend events in Atlanta are expected to bring thousands to town, and some of those people may arrive early for the festivities. Dragon Con, a four-day sci-fi, fantasy and comic convention, kicks of Friday. More than 60,000 people are expected to attend. The Atlanta Black Gay Pride celebration is also underway.

Additionally, with the Labor Day holiday weekend looming, many people will be hitting the road for a last hurrah of summer, putting more vehicles in the mix.

If teleworking is an option, you may want to consider it Thursday, Turnbull said. But if you have to drive, listen to WSB radio for frequent traffic updates.

NHTSA study: Driving stoned is much safer than driving drunk

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A new study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that drivers who smoke weed before getting behind the wheel are no more likely to crash than sober drivers.

This does hold true only after adjusting for age, gender and race.

It also means that high drivers have a significantly lower crash risk than drunk drivers.

Overall alcohol use also increases the possibility of a wreck by 6.75 times.

The Washington Post notes that several states have laws to separate "marijuana-impaired driving" from drunk driving, still handling the two similarly.

You can see the NHTSA's full report here. [PDF]

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