Scandal is Brewing After 2019 Photo Emerges of ‘Crack’ in I-40 Mississippi River Bridge
West Memphis, AR – A possible scandal is brewing after a photo taken in 2019 appearing to show damage to the Interstate 40 bridge connecting Arkansas and Tennessee has emerged.
On Tuesday, May 11, the I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge (also known as the Mississippi River Bridge) was quickly shut down after a routine inspection led to the discovery of what officials said was a major “crack in the bottom side of the bridge truss.”
The following day at a press briefing, Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) officials indicated the damage occurred some time between Tuesday and when the bridge was last inspected in September 2020 — and August 2019 prior to that.
However, that explanation quickly crumbled.
Twitter user David Manasco took to social media to share photos reportedly taken in July 2019 during a riverboat tour appearing to show damage in the same location on the bridge.
@myARDOT @myTDOT Well the I-40 crack started well before the 2019 inspection. Here is a shot I took in July 2019. You can see the crack was quite extensive at that point. Curious why this wasn’t caught in Aug 2019 inspection. #40MSRiverBridge #HernandoDeSoto pic.twitter.com/vsQkR4cWYl
— David Manasco (@ManascoD) May 12, 2021
“When people are asking when did it start, we can use photos that were taken and see when it started potentially,” Manasco told Memphis media outlet FOX 13. “I have the raw files. I’ve got 6 or 7 different angles. I can show them; it’s not been doctored or altered. I brightened it up so I can visibly see it.”
ARDOT is now acknowledging “earlier evidence of damage” on the bridge has since been discovered after review of an inspector’s drone video.
“We are now investigating to see if the damage was noted in previous reports and what actions were taken,” ARDOT said.
During the course of our investigation we have found earlier evidence of damage on the #40MSRiverBridge captured by an inspector’s drone video. We are now investigating to see if the damage was noted in previous reports and what actions were taken.
— Arkansas DOT (@myARDOT) May 14, 2021
The I-40 bridge agreement between Arkansas and Tennessee requires that ARDOT be responsible for routine and special bridge inspections while TDOT manage maintenance and repairs.
This places the responsibility firmly on ARDOT and many are now asking how this could happen.
On its website, ARDOT said the bridge was “rated to be in fair condition” following the September 2020 inspection.
University of Memphis engineering professor, Adel Abdelnaby, recently reviewed the inspection report.
He told local outlet WMC 5 he was “surprised” by what he discovered.
“When I looked at the cracking the inspectors identified… they didn’t list any cracks in the Category 4, the most serious cracking,” Abdelnaby said.
Other observers have pointed to the rusting of the steel beam as evidence that the damage has existed for quite some time.
ARDOT pushed back on this assertion, stating: “We know the sight of the rust there is concerning, but keep in mind that this is a very humid environment and rust can form on unprotected steel in as little as a week.”
Transportation officials from both states, along with investigators with the Federal Highway Administration, are considering a few possible “interim repair concepts” that would allow the bridge to be fully or partially reopened to vehicular traffic.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) advised one option is “installing a steel plate to beef up the fractured section” and another is “using steel rods that would be attached to the bridge and span over the fractured section.”
“The interim repair would allow time for a new bridge component to be fabricated to replace the bridge’s damaged 37’ long section,” TDOT explained.
No decisions have yet been made.
Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard reopened the Mississippi River to traffic at 9:00 a.m. Friday morning.
“There is no indication that the bridge is continuing to deteriorate,” TDOT said. “We went through an extensive bridge modeling program to be sure it was safe for river traffic.”
The bridge remains shut down and will be until further notice.
TransportationNation.com will continue to follow new developments.