The Arkansas Department of Transportation has provided two photos of a fracture in a key beam discovered on the Interstate 40 bridge linking Memphis and West Memphis.
The Hernando DeSoto Bridge was closed hurriedly yesterday after the discovery of the crack near the midpoint of the bridge. Barge traffic on the Mississippi River beneath the bridge also was halted as a safety precaution. Assessments are underway with no timeline yet on reopening.
A department news release:
The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) are working together to safely repair and reopen the Interstate 40 Bridge over the Mississippi River, according to agency officials.
A routine bridge inspection on May 11 by Michael Baker International revealed a significant fracture in a steel support beam that is crucial for the structure of the bridge. The inspector immediately notified emergency services and shut down all access to the bridge, including barge traffic on the Mississippi River.
“Our primary goal is the safety of the road users,” said ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor during a press briefing today, “and our secondary goal is to reopen the bridge to traffic as soon as we can safely do so.”
The September 2020 inspection did not reveal any structural deficiencies.
“The fracture is a result of wear-and-tear,” shared ARDOT Assistant Chief Engineer of Operations Steve Frisbee. “We are taking extra precautions and inspecting the rest of the bridge for problematic damage while it is closed to traffic.”
Arkansas and Tennessee share responsibilities and costs for the bridge; ARDOT manages inspections while TDOT oversees maintenance and repairs. TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges said the repairs could take weeks, possibly months.
“Even simple solutions such as welding a repair into place is more complicated with this bridge due to its size and that it’s over water,” Frisbee explained.
ARDOT completed more than 10,000 bridge inspections with 27 ARDOT teams and additional consultants in 2020.
“This fracture had the potential of becoming a catastrophic event that was prevented by our staff’s diligent effort in managing our bridge inspection program,” Director Tudor said.
Here’s a video of today’s news briefing. Speakers describe the extent of the cracks in two important beams that run the length of the bridge.