A secret skate park was built under Interstate 85, just yards from the collapse

It was never supposed to be there.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story was originally published in April 2017. It is part of our "Year In Review" section as one of our most-viewed stories of the year.

ATLANTA -- Sloping concrete ramps supported by beams under an Atlanta highway.

A skate park was created under the Interstate-85 bridge, just beyond where it collapsed last week in a massive fire. The only problem? The Georgia Department of Transportation never approved it.

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Photos taken of the skate park, provided to 11Alive, show pallets of concrete mix sitting under tarps, stacks of plywood laying about and other construction materials strewn under a section of the Atlanta highway. But 11Alive found more materials under the bridge, even flammable ones, including tires and old mattresses.

PHOTOS | Hidden skate park under I-85

11Alive's investigative reporter Andy Pierrotti reached out to GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale, who told him via text message that the park was not sanctioned or approved by state officials in any way. When 11Alive asked for an interview for follow-up questions, GDOT declined the request. The agency also didn't say when they became aware of the park.

It's unknown, right now, how long and how much it took to create the finished product seen in the pictures, but it appears that the section of the bridge was last inspected in 2015. Dale said cleanup of the park would begin on Friday.

After 11Alive published its story, the agency sent an official statement a saying, "There was no permit of any kind given for this unauthorized facility on state property. We are aware of its existence and will begin removal shortly. Our team is currently working to review this site as part of our commitment to address illegal trespassing on state property and the resulting implications."

Andrew Rodriguez is a regular skateboarder and said he discovered just a day after the collapse. Rodriguez did not contact 11Alive about the skate park, but said he hopes the state can come up with a compromise.

"It's pretty solid," Rodriguez said after giving the ramps a try. He told 11Alive it's one of the nicest skate parks he's ever been on and is like a piece of art. "It definitely looks like it's done by people who know what they're doing."

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The new revelations of the park come just a week after a considerable portion of I-85 was brought down in a fiery collapse. Investigators said the fire began after a suspect sparked a fire inside the storage area where noncombustible, but highly-flammable materials were kept.

GDOT has come under fire for storing the materials, said to be a high density plastic conduit (or HDPE), under the bridge. During a press conference, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said storing the material under bridges is something the agency does frequently, but they never anticipated it would be set 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.


I-85 FIRE | What you need to know

An estimated 220,000 people used the busy artery that straddles Midtown Atlanta and Buckhead each day, and officials estimate that repairs on the bridge will continue into June. Until then, the collapse and resulting construction has sent traffic spilling into the surrounding streets, as drivers try to navigate around the city.

PHOTOS | Under the bridge aftermath