ARDOT Fires Inspector Amid Growing I-40 Bridge Scandal, Referring Matter to FBI
West Memphis, AR – The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) has fired an employee allegedly responsible for missing critical damage to the Interstate 40 bridge connecting Arkansas and Tennessee.
At a press briefing on Monday, ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor acknowledged the failure of her Department in properly inspecting the I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge (also known as the Mississippi River Bridge).
Specifically though, she pointed to a “senior bridge inspector,” who ARDOT officials said led a team of four to six people during inspections of the bridge in September 2019 and September 2020.
ARDOT conceded drone footage captured by a contractor, Michael Baker International, in May 2019 reveals what officials described as a “crack in the bottom side of the bridge truss.”
“From our investigation we have determined that the same employee who conducted the inspection in both 2019 and 2020 failed to carry out his responsibilities correctly,” Tudor said. “This is unacceptable and this employee has been terminated as of this morning.”
The images below are from the 2019 drone video and a picture of the damage captured by ARDOT this month.
A comparison clearly shows a worsening of the break in the steel beam.
Tudor also informed ARDOT is referring the matter to the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice for “their determination if further investigation, criminal or otherwise is warranted.”
Additionally, the embattled ARDOT Director admitted the ordeal has “revealed a process failure that is the responsibility of ARDOT.”
“We should have discovered this crack in the beam in 2019 and we are taking steps to hold those responsible for not doing their jobs accountable, but more importantly, to correct the flaws in our process,” she said.
The Federal Highway Administration will be conducting a comprehensive assessment of ARDOT’s bridge inspection program, as a result of the glaring failure.
“We welcome this assessment to make sure this never happens again,” Tudor commented.
Further, ARDOT has requested the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) conduct a drone review of the Interstate 55 bridge (which is where traffic crossing the Mississippi River is currently being diverted).
Tudor explained the request was made in order to “give confidence to the public that [the I-55 bridge] is in good condition.”
That review is expected to take place this week.
Moreover, all bridges inspected by the terminated employee will be reinspected beginning this week, ARDOT also advised.
When Will The Bridge Reopen?
According to ARDOT’s Deputy Director and Chief of Engineering Rex Vines, the bridge will be repaired in two phases.
The first phase, which includes installing a steel plate to beef up the fractured section, is expected to begin this week.
The second phase will consist of using steel rods to span over the fractured section in order to ensure the structural integrity of the bridge while a newly fabricated 37′ beam is installed.
Vines explained the bridge will not reopen to vehicular traffic until both phases are completed.
He did not provide an estimated time of when the repairs will be completed.
However, Tudor acknowledged the negative impact the bridge’s closure is causing on both the trucking industry and the U.S. economy.
“It’s extremely important for our economy to get this bridge back open,” she commented. “It’s causing a hardship on our trucking industry. We are committed to getting it open as quickly as possible.”
TransportationNation.com will have more explosive details on this story tomorrow, so make sure to check back and follow us on social media.