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I-85 bridge collapse: Will Atlanta’s luck hold out for the afternoon commute?

An early rush hour and an unusual lull in accidents helped Atlanta avert a traffic meltdown Monday morning on the first big commute since I-85 burst into flames and collapsed.

But it would take another stroke of rare luck to save motorists this afternoon. A minor fender-bender could be all it takes to snarl traffic for miles and strand thousands of commuters.

IN-DEPTH: Who is to blame for Atlanta bridge collapse?

THE LATEST: Who is Basil Eleby, accused bridge burner?

“This morning, which was virtually accident-free, was abnormal,” Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale said.

Commuters shouldn’t get their hopes up for a repeat. Dale painted a sober picture of Atlanta’s commute while workers hustle to reopen I-85 in Buckhead by June 15.

“Whether you had a good experience or a bad experience this morning, this is about as good as it’s going to get until that bridge gets built,” Dale said.

At about 2 p.m. Monday, traffic on most Atlanta highways was moving well. As usual, some spots on the Perimeter were congested.

RELATED: I-85 to reopen by June 15

COMMUTING: How to cope with your Atlanta commute

The lack of accidents Monday morning may have been due, in part, to drivers being extra cautious as they were forced to find new, unfamiliar ways to work, Dale said. If motorists continue to drive alert, show courtesy to fellow drivers and leave for work early, it would go a long way toward keeping traffic moving, she added.

Another thing that helped early Monday: Drivers seemed to heed GDOT’s advice to leave early and give themselves plenty of time to get where they were going.

Rush hour traffic started picking up around 5 a.m. — about an hour earlier than usual, according to State Traffic Engineer Andrew Heath.

It also started winding down an hour earlier — around 8 a.m.

“We’re seeing a very dramatic shift” in rush hour, Heath said.

That’s not to say it was a great commute. Local roads near the closure of I-85 in Buckhead were packed — a condition that’s likely to persist until the stretch of highway reopens in June. And traffic congestion on I-285 was typical for a weekday — that is, pretty bad at times.

But “typical” was an adjective GDOT officials were delighted to use Monday, just 11 days after a fire closed one of the main gateways to Atlanta.

After a relatively easy week on the road, they expected traffic to increase up to 20 percent as people returned to school and work after the week-long spring break holiday.

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