Questions abound about placement, security of material under I-85 bridge

Questions about flammable material stored under bridge

ATLANTA -- Although there’s been major progress in the days after I-85 collapsed Thursday, questions remain about how that flammable material ended up under the bridge, and why it wasn't more secure.

In a press conference today, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s commissioner Russell McMurry admitted that what was stored under the bridge was a construction material, HDPE, a high density plastic conduit. It’s supposed to be non combustible but can be highly flammable, and there are no rules on how it should be stored.

McMurry said storing the material under bridges is something GDOT does frequently, but they never thought anybody would set it on fire, causing this kind of catastrophe.

"This should be a learning opportunity for, something, quite honestly until this event happened, a criminal activity was not something probably that most DOTs were thinking about," McMurry said.

A 2011 Google Maps image shows the area was fenced off, but the materials weren't there yet.  A picture from November 2016 shows that same fence, but the image shows piping inside, and there's a solid path worn around the edge of that chain link fence that leads right into the area under the bridge. 

Investigators now believe a homeless man, Basil Eleby, was behind the fire. Warrants claim he was smoking crack cocaine under the bridge when he put a chair on top of a shopping cart and set it on fire.

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McMurry said they’ll be looking at all things to make sure another disaster like this won't happen again. Atlanta City Councilman E.T. Martin is also calling for an independent investigation, questioning the safety and security behind the storage of these materials.

“Nothing is off the table,” he said.

Meanwhile, McMurry said GDOT will be in contact with other state DOT officials nationwide to make them aware of the situation Georgia is currently facing. 

The federal government has promised $10 million in aid to help with the repairs.

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