ATLANTA - If all goes as planned, the northbound lanes on Interstate 85 that have been closed for six weeks will reopen on Saturday.
Earlier this week, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced the I-85 bridge over Piedmont Road will be completed and open for traffic by rush hour Monday morning, but the Georgia Department of Transportation is hoping to reopen the interstate even sooner.
GDOT said the goal is to open the northbound lanes sometime on Saturday, and the southbound lanes on Sunday.
"This is a time to say thank you because this is an extraordinarily short period of time to complete such a major project," Governor Deal said on Wednesday.
The I-85 bridge has been shut down since March 30 when a massive fire caused a portion of the interstate to collapse. The damage was so extensive that crews had to repair the interstate in both directions.
I-85 will reopen exactly one month ahead of schedule and Governor Deal said the main reason that's happening is due to incentives for the contractor, C.W. Matthews. The estimated financial impact is about $27 million in motorist savings for having completed the project earlier than the original completion date, which was June 15.
"When we confront tragedies and disasters, we can respond and we can respond quickly and in a very timely fashion," Deal said, commending the state of Georgia and all those involved in the repairs. “To be able to completely demolish the damaged section of a bridge and totally replace it and open it again for business as usual in just six short weeks, we may have set some records in the process of doing that."
"In just six weeks, over 700 feet of bridge have been reconstructed and built from new," DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said Wednesday morning.
McMurry praised the 24/7 work and the people dedicated to getting the road back open. He also said there is still work to be done on I-85 before it can fully reopen.
"We have electrical work still to be done in the median to install the street lights. And still cleanup work, such as sweeping and removing construction debris," McMurry said.
McMurry said the final piece of the puzzle happens when the stripes on the road are reconfigured to their original traffic patterns, which the DOT anticipates happening over the weekend.
"It is our intent that this will happen on Saturday and Sunday," McMurry said. "Northbound Saturday and southbound would open at some point Sunday."
McMurry said exact times can't be given due to rain being in the forecast.
"As soon as one is ready to be open it will open and we will notify you immediately," he said.
McMurry also said at least 10 inspectors have been on site every day throughout the entire process, ensuring the reconstructed interstate is safe.
“We knew that the closure of the corridor would have a major impact on local and regional travel. We have been laser-focused not only on rapid construction, but also on safety and efficiency,” said McMurry. “Six weeks is an amazingly short timeframe to complete this project. At the same time, it is probably the most inspected, most scrutinized construction project Georgia DOT has ever undertaken, with our inspectors working on site around the clock. We did our due diligence each day and every step of the way.”
The May 15 date is nearly two weeks earlier than the DOT's most recent commitment of Memorial Day weekend, and five weeks ahead of the original opening date of June 15.