Officials: Video shows evidence of damage on I-40 Memphis bridge two years earlier

Published 3:06 pm Friday, May 14, 2021

Officials from the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) have confirmed Friday that past drone footage of the I-40 bridge in Memphis shows damage in the same area of the fracture that caused the bridge to be shut down earlier this week.

ARDOT officials said a video taken by an inspector two years ago found “significant rust and the beginning of a crack” in the same area as the fracture that prompted the bridge’s shutdown this week.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation on Friday said an image captured by an inspector’s drone video in May 2019 showed evidence of damage on the lower side of the bridge, the same area as the crack that was discovered this week.

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DOT spokesman Dave Parker said the damage was found by a consulting firm that was inspecting the bridge’s cables that year.

“ARDOT is now investigating to see if that damage was noted in a September 2019 inspection report and, if so, what actions were taken,” the agency said in a statement.

The bridge remained closed as negotiations intensified between the White House and a group of Republican senators over a potential infrastructure package. Democrats have said the shutdown highlights the urgent need for more infrastructure funding.

Republicans have called for a infrastructure plan with a smaller price tag than President Joe Biden’s and with a narrower definition of public works.

The Arkansas Trucking Association on Friday estimated the closure would cost the trucking industry at least $2.4 million a day because of the longer routes to cross the river. The group used data provided by the American Transportation Research Institute.

Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton said the trip on the I-40 bridge between the two states averaged eight minutes. Since the I-40 bridge closure, trips on the I-55 bridge being used as the closest alternate route have averaged 84 minutes.

“Even if you’re looking at 6-8 weeks, that’s an incredible expenditure that the industry can’t simply absorb,” Newton said.

Tennessee’s transportation department said there’s no indication the bridge is continuing to deteriorate and said designers were working on an interim repair plan that would rely on steel rods that would be attached to the bridge and span over the fractured section. Designers were also looking at the possibility of installing a steel plate to beef up the fractured section.

The interim plan would allow time for a new bridge component to be fabricated to replace the damaged section, the agency said.

In an inspection for the 2020 National Bridge Inventory report, the Federal Highway Administration said the I-40 bridge checked out in fair condition overall, with all primary structure elements sound and only some minor cracks and chips in the overall structure. Its structural evaluation checked out “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.”

However, height and width clearances for oversize vehicles were “basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action,” the inspectors found. Tennessee recommended “bridge deck replacement with only incidental widening.”

Arkansas transportation officials said the crack did not appear in the last inspection of the bridge, which occurred in September 2020. The bridge opened in 1973 and carries an average of about 50,000 vehicles a day, with about a quarter being trucks, Tennessee transportation officials said.

Tug boats pushing barges could be seen passing under the bridge shortly after the Coast Guard’s announcement Friday. Some onlookers came to a riverside park to get a glimpse of the vessels.