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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.

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"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.

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

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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.

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]

NHTSA: Walking can be risky especially on New Year's Eve

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A night of parties and over-indulging often leads to impaired or tired drivers and walkers.

Those and other factors combine to make Jan 1 one of the worst days to be a pedestrian.

Mother Jones quotes the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), "Between 2008 and 2012, more pedestrians died in traffic crashes on New Year's Day (and Halloween) than on other days of the year. IIHS also found that 59 percent of pedestrians killed on New Year's Day were drunk."

More simply, you 're nearly twice as likely to die when on foot Jan 1.

A highway safety expert says people know not to drink and drive but "the risks associated with drinking and walking aren't as clear to the average person."

More here

Traffic tickets that will cost you the most

Clark Howard is a nationally syndicated consumer advice expert

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Ever wonder exactly how much your auto insurance will go up after a speeding ticket? How about after 2 or 3 tickets? I have new numbers to share with you.Local governments have gone crazy with ticketing for everything because they're starved for revenue. You may recall that TomTom was busted in 2011 for selling database info to police departments so the police would know exactly where people were speeding and could ticket them. (The company has since discontinued this practice.)The calls I get about this kind of thing are usually about the frightful cost of tickets. But what I've not heard a lot about is what happens to your insurance premium when you get a ticket.

These traffic tickets will drive your car insurance premiums up!

The latest figures from BankRate.com suggest that less than one-third of drivers who got traffic tickets in the last 5 years are paying more for insurance. What really determines if you'll pay more is the type of ticket you get. For example, a ticket for DUI/DWI, reckless driving, or leaving the scene of an accident will eat you up beyond the pale.InsuranceQuotes.com has a new list of averages for what certain violations will cost you in auto insurance rates. Remember, these are averages, so your individual results may vary. But here's the scoop:

A single ticket going 1 to 15 miles over the limit will cause a 21% rise in your auto insurance costs. Going 16 miles over the speed limit will generally result in an insurance spike of just under 30%.

The best advice is stay 9 miles or less over the posted speed limit and you'll generally be safe. Particularly on freeways, those first 9 miles over the speed limit are like a gimme from police. Of course, this is not true everywhere; this is general advice, so use your discretion!What about reckless driving? A single ticket will raise your rates 82%! I had to do a double-take on that number when I first saw it! Similarly, a first-time offense for DUI or DWI will generally increase your premium by about the same amount.

Check out these ways to lower your auto insurance rates

Know that in some cases you can insulate yourself from higher rates by taking a driver safety course. These courses are often sponsored by the National Safety Council and run in 6-hour increments. Finally, don't forget there's really a world of possibility for reducing what you pay for auto insurance if you use a pay-as-you-drive insurer. A company like Progressive will offer you lower rates on insurance in exchange for giving them the right to spy on your driving habits. And they're just one of many doing this sort of thing.Looking for a list of the best and worst auto insurers? We've got it here for you. And don't forget about our list of the best and worst home insurers too.

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