DOT Official Says Emergency I-40 Bridge Closure Averted Potential ‘Catastrophic Event’
West Memphis, AR – A top official with the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) says the emergency closure of a bridge along Interstate 40 just might have averted a potential catastrophe.
Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday, ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor praised state inspectors as “heroes” after a routine inspection of the I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge (connecting Arkansas and Tennessee) led to the discovery of a major “crack in the bottom side of the bridge truss.”
After the discovery was made, ARDOT and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) officials worked quickly to shut down all traffic lanes of the bridge, including barge traffic along the Mississippi River which the bridge spans.
Tudor defended the emergency closure stating the situation “had the potential of being a catastrophic event.”
ICYMI – the #40MSRiverBridge remains closed until further notice. A significant fracture was found during a routine inspection. We and @myTDOT are working together to safeguard all travelers (road & water) and then reopen these paths to the public as soon as safely possible. pic.twitter.com/D6DXwlH5Cf
— Arkansas DOT (@myARDOT) May 12, 2021
The bridge, often referred to as the Mississippi River Bridge, carries 41,000 vehicles per day, 30% of which are commercial motor vehicles.
The 50-year-old structure was last inspected in September of 2020.
ARDOT officials said the crack was not present at that time.
Tudor informed that “nationally known” bridge forensic experts were called in to perform a “diagnostic evaluation,” which remains ongoing.
The I-40 Bridge will be closed until further notice.
Further, officials said it was too early to know if the bridge would require a complete tear down and rebuild which would keep the bridge shut down for an extended period of time.
In the meantime, traffic is being rerouted in both directions to I-55 as an alternate route across the river.
Arkansas I-40 eastbound traffic should take Exit 5 to I-55 to cross the Mississippi River into Memphis.
Tennessee I-40 westbound traffic should take the I-55 Bridge across the Mississippi River to cross into Arkansas and then take Exit 4 to access I-40 westbound.
ARDOT officials assured the public the I-55 bridge was capable of bearing the load from increased traffic.
The I-40 bridge agreement between Arkansas and Tennessee requires that ARDOT is responsible for routine and special bridge inspections and TDOT is responsible for maintenance and repairs.
The states share the cost of those activities equally.
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Tudor also indicated the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will help provide the funds needed to make the necessary repairs to the bridge.
Additionally, Tudor noted TDOT has secured emergency contracting authority from the FHWA to remedy the problem as quickly as is safely possible.
TransportationNation.com will bring you the latest details in this story as we get them.