I-85 near Atlanta’s `Spaghetti Junction’ partially reopens after crash shuts road

Two of the five northbound lanes on Interstate 85 outside Atlanta reopened late Saturday afternoon after a fatal and fiery early-morning crash shut down all the lanes of a portion of the heavily trafficked expressway.

Scott Higley, a Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman, confirmed the partial reopening at about 3:20 PM ET. The three remaining lanes will stay closed until late Saturday evening at the earliest, Higley said.

Emergency crews were busy all day repairing the heavily damaged 100 foot by 70 foot stretch of I-85 after a tank truck carrying 8,500 gallons of fuel crashed near the exit at Jimmy Carter Boulevard shortly before 8 a.m. The impact ignited the truck’s contents and sent an enormous fireball into the sky. Two people, including the driver of the tanker, were killed, authorities said. 

Police in Gwinnett County, a suburb northeast of downtown Atlanta where the incident occurred, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that an occupant of another vehicle was also killed. Higley said he understood there were multiple fatalities but couldn’t officially confirm the information.

The southbound lanes of I-85 were temporarily closed after fuel from the tank truck which had entered a nearby sewer drain caused the fire to spread, authorities told the Journal-Constitution. The southbound lanes were reopened a couple of hours later.

The crash occurred a little more than a mile north of “Spaghetti Junction,” a five-level stack interchange where I-85 and Interstate 285, which encircles the city, intersect. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the northbound side of I-85 that feeds the interchange was named the nation’s most congested truck bottleneck, according to the American Transport Research Institute (ATRI), the research arm of the American Trucking Associations. It finished second in 2019 to the interchange of Interstate 95 and New Jersey State Route 4 at the George Washington Bridge connecting New York and New Jersey.

Virtually every afternoon, Spaghetti Junction takes the form of a conga-line of cars and trucks waiting their turn to traverse the interchange. However, there were likely relatively few trucks on the stretch at the time of the accident because most drivers would have made their long-distance runs the prior afternoon.