LORIE TUDOR: Highway director says more investigation of failure is planned.

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The Arkansas Department of Transportation announced today it had fired an unidentified bridge inspector who missed structural failures in the Interstate 40 bridge in 2019 and 2020.

The bridge was closed to traffic last Tuesday when a fractured beam was discovered in the nearly 50-year-old span.

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Lorie Tudor, director of ARDOT, said the agency had confirmed the accuracy of a drone photograph that detected a fracture in the bridge as early as 2019. The same employee tasked with finding this problem “failed to carry out responsibilities correctly.” He was fired this morning and the matter has been referred to federal authorities to say whether further investigation “criminal or otherwise” was warranted. He was said to be an employee of about 15 years. He was the team leader of a four- to six-person team and the agency said he couldn’t be identified yet.

Tudor said the investigation wouldn’t stop with this employee, but would review others in the chain of command to make sure there was no other negligence in the process.

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Agency officials outlined the beginning of repair plans, but didn’t offer a specific timeline on when the bridge might reopen. it closed last Tuesday when a bridge inspector noticed a 900-foot beam was fractured

Tudor emphasized that the fracture was found last week “by happenstance,” by Michael Baker International, which was inspecting other portions of the bridge — cables and other superstructure. The 2019 inspection should have included a physical inspection of every inch of the beam that has failed, but “that did not happen,” Tudor said. The image of a fractured beam was shown very briefly in a five-minute drone video Baker had done on other parts of the bridge.

Tudor said the failure was the employee’s, but also acknowledged a failure of the department process. She said that was under review for improvement. She said all the inspector’s bridge inspections (an unknown number at this point) would be inspected again this week and, to reassure the public, an inspection of the Interstate 55 bridge at West Memphis, now carrying the I-40 traffic, also will be performed.

Tudor said the crack had worsened between 2019 and this year. But she said it was hard to speculate whether the situation would have been as serious then in terms of the remedy that is needed.

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The future will include more redundant checks and a newly purchased drone to supplement the “snooper” machinery used to make visual inspections, Tudor said.

The department hopes to begin work this week on temporary repair work that will ensure stability of the bridge for future work. That plan calls for the installation of structural steel plates to the outside of the fractured beam.

The Tennessee highway agency was to receive responses today from firms interested in doing the major repair work. The plan, not yet firm, now envisions putting in steel roads spanning the fracture to stabilize the bridge and then replace a portion or all of the fractured beam, known as a tie girder.

No timeline has been developed.

Arkansas and Tennessee share responsibility for the bridge. Inspections are Arkansas’ responsibility. Maintenance and repair fall to Tennessee.

Tudor said she considered the state “fortunate” for discovering the problem before something worse happened. “It’s an eye-opener for everyone,” she said.

The department will release some of the 2019 drone video and a photo of the crack as it appeared then.

UPDATE:

Update 2:

The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) and Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) have selected Kiewit Corporation to perform the repairs to the Interstate 40 Mississippi River Bridge.

 

TDOT officials stated that the drone review will occur tomorrow or Wednesday, at the latest.