MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – River traffic has reopened in the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee, three days after it was closed when cracks were discovered in a bridge between 40 connecting states. Tennessee and Arkansas, the U.S. Coast Guard said Friday.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas Department of Transportation said a video taken by inspectors two years ago found “significant rust and the beginning of the crack” in the same area as the fracture that caused the bridge to close this week.
More than 60 tug boats that towed more than 1,000 ships were aligned Friday to cross under the Hernando de Soto Bridge, the Coast Guard said.
Economic development officials worry that the prolonged closure of river traffic could affect the region’s economy and disrupt the country’s supply chain.
The bridge will remain closed for vehicles indefinitely.With traffic diverted onto Interstate 55 and the 71-year-old Memphis and Arkansas Bridge, five kilometers south.
Traffic in the river beneath the six-lane bridge was shut down Tuesday after inspectors found it. “Significant cracks” in one of two horizontal steel beams, 900 feet (274 m), are critical to the bridge’s integrity, director of Laurie Tudor. Arkansas Department of Transportation
Engineers wanted to make sure the bridge was able to stand on its own before reopening river traffic.
“Based on information provided by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard has determined that transport under the I-40 bridge is safe for sea traffic,” Memphis Port Captain Ryan Rhodes said in the order.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation on Friday said images captured by inspectors’ drone footage in May 2019 showed the damage to the bottom of the bridge, the same area as the cracks discovered this week.
DOT spokesman Dave Parker said a consulting firm was inspecting the bridge’s cable that year it was damaged.
“ARDOT is currently investigating to see if the damage was documented in its September 2019 audit report and, if so, how it will proceed,” the agency said in a statement.
The bridge remains closed as negotiations intensify. Between the White House and a group of Republican senators in a viable infrastructure package. Democrats said the shutdown underscored the urgent need for additional infrastructure funding.
Republicans have called for an infrastructure plan with a smaller price tag than President Joe Biden’s and a narrower definition of public work.
The Arkansas Trucking Association on Friday expected the shutdown would cost the trucking industry at least $ 2.4 million a day due to longer routes across the river. This group uses data provided by the America Transportation Research Institute.
Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said the trip on the I-40 bridge between the two states averaged eight minutes. Since the closure of I-40, the trip on the nearest other I-55 bridge takes an average of 84 minutes.
“Even if you look at 6-8 weeks, that’s an incredible cost that the industry can’t easily absorb,” said Newton.
The Tennessee Transportation Department said there was no indication the bridge was continually deteriorating and said designers were working on a temporary repair plan that would rely on steel bars to be attached to the bridge and spanned over broken sections. The designers also looked at the possibility of installing steel plates to reinforce broken sections.
The interim plan will allow time to build new bridge components to replace damaged ones, the agency said.
In reviewing the 2020 National Bridge Inventory Report, the Federal Highway Administration. It said the I-40 bridge was inspected as a whole in fair condition, with all the major structural elements being audible and there were only minor cracks and chips in the overall structure. Structural assessments have verified that “Rather better than the minimum sufficiency to tolerate being left as is.”
However, the height and width spacing for larger vehicles is “basically unacceptable, requiring high priority corrective action. Tennessee recommends “Replacement of the bridge deck only by accidental widening”
Arkansas transportation officials said the crack was not present in the most recent bridge inspection, which took place in September 2020.The bridge opened in 1973 and has an average of 50,000 trucks per day, about a quarter of it. The Tennessee Transportation Authority said.
The tugboat could be seen passing under the bridge shortly after the Coast Guard’s announcement Friday. Some visitors come to the park by the river to see the boats.
DeMillo reports from Little Rock, Arkansas.