Interstate 40 Mississippi River Bridge in Memphis Now Partially Open
Memphis, TN – The months-long closure of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge along Interstate 40 connecting Arkansas and Tennessee is almost over.
Late Saturday evening the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) officially reopened the eastbound lanes of the bridge.
TDOT had previously announced the eastbound lanes would not reopen until 6 a.m. on Monday, August 2, followed by the reopening of the westbound lanes on Friday, August 6.
However, in an update late last week, TDOT said it was accelerating the process.
Then, in a Tweet on Saturday night, TDOT spokesperson Nichole Lawrence confirmed the partial reopening.
I-40 EB lanes on the Hernando DeSoto bridge is OPEN! pic.twitter.com/2xo4yv5F56
— Nichole Lawrence (@NicLawrenceTDOT) August 1, 2021
TDOT officials also informed the reopening of the westbound lanes could occur before August 6.
“We will keep you posted on the exact day and time,” TDOT told Transportation Nation Network (TNN).
The heavily-trafficked bridge was abruptly closed on May 11 after an inspection led to the discovery of a break in the bottom side of the bridge truss.
The I-40 bridge agreement between Arkansas and Tennessee requires that the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) be responsible for routine and special bridge inspections while TDOT manage maintenance and repairs.
An investigation conducted by ARDOT confirmed the critical break in the bridge had repeatedly been missed by ARDOT inspectors during recent annual inspections.
Subsequently, ARDOT fired the “senior bridge inspector” who officials indicated led a team of four to six people during inspections in September 2019 and September 2020.
“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,” ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor stated at a press conference in the days following the closure.
Tudor referred the matter to the FBI for further investigation.
The embattled director also admitted the failure could have led to a “catastrophic” event.
However, the news got even worse for Tudor and her Department when a TDOT inspection in late June revealed previous ARDOT inspections also failed to identify more than a dozen additionally needed repairs.
TDOT bridge inspectors conducted ultrasound testing on more than 500 weld connections and discovered 16 connections needed new plating in order for the bridge to once again be safe for travel.
Despite ARDOT’s mismanagement, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) continues to stand by Tudor.
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In a press conference in May amid the fallout, Gov. Hutchinson praised Tudor for taking “quick action.”
“I think she’s shown incredible leadership during this time to address it in the right way to give the people confidence that this is something we will take seriously,” Mr. Hutchinson said.
With all of the repairs, along with a series of load tests having now been completed, the bridge will soon be in full operation again much to the satisfaction of thousands of truckers and local commuters.
However, the negative economic impacts caused by the major traffic delays will likely be felt by the trucking industry for months to come.