The Daily Memphian, with assistance from the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, is reporting today on questions about bridge inspections by the Arkansas Department of Transporation, an inquiry flowing from the long-overlooked failure of a major girder on the Interstate 40 bridge at Memphis. A bridge inspector, Monty Frazier, was fired, but no other blame has been laid anywhere else.
The article includes an extensive interview with Frazier and a look inside the investigation that led to his firing.
The crux of the reporting:
While both the Tennessee Department of Transportation and ArDOT share responsibility for maintaining the DeSoto Bridge, ArDOT is responsible for inspecting it.
Somehow, teams of Arkansas bridge inspectors, going back years, failed to notice a major separation in the bridge’s steel tie girders. Those tie girders were considered to be “fracture critical” — meaning that if they lost their integrity, the bridge would collapse, and any number of more than 47,000 drivers who cross the DeSoto Bridge every day could plummet more than 120 feet into the Mississippi River.
It was, indeed, bad.
That crack’s discovery set off a chain of events that has placed virtually all of the blame for closing one of the most heavily trafficked bridges in the United States squarely on the shoulders of one man.
But did the state of Arkansas get the right man?
A Daily Memphian investigation into what happened after the crack was discovered revealed a troubling rush to judgment, evidence the crack has existed for at least seven years, and major questions about the procedures and thoroughness of the current bridge inspections.
The article notes photographs showing the failed girder since at least 2016 and perhaps as early as 2014 (see that photo in ANNN post of story.)
The contractor who reported the crack in May did not see it in 2019, despite it being visible in its drone footage at the time. The company has not lost its contract with the state and continues to inspect bridges.
A review of thousands of pages of internal ArDOT emails shows Frazier’s boss, Mike Hill, acknowledged the blame for the failure to notice the crack should rest with him. He has not lost his job, or been disciplined.
In an email responding to questions from The Daily Memphian and ANNN — and in a follow-up call with ArDOT’s Director, Lori Tudor — ArDOT officials claimed that Frazier’s firing rested on their finding that “Monty Frazier was the only inspector of the tie girder that was cracked between 2016 and 2020.” That assertion is contradicted by years of reports that show at least five separate ArDOT employees inspected the bridge during that time period.