LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas Department of Transportation officials held a news conference Wednesday to share updates on the closure of the Interstate 40 bridge crossing the Mississippi River after cracks were found Tuesday.
ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor described the situation as “a significant fracture in a steel beam that is crucial to the structural integrity of the I-40 Mississippi River bridge between West Memphis and Memphis.”
Tudor said a bridge inspection team noticed the fracture Tuesday afternoon during a scheduled maintenance check of the bridge.
“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,” she explained.
Tudor said the inspection team immediately notified emergency personnel who shut the bridge down to vehicular traffic and barge traffic.
ARDOT officials said it is too soon to know what caused the significant fracture as the bridge was last inspected less than two years ago.
It’s unclear how long the bridge will be closed because transportation officials are waiting to hear from a nationally-known engineering team to determine what options are available to fix the crack.
During a news conference Wednesday morning, officials in Tennessee said they had no estimate for a time when the bridge could reopen, adding that river traffic was also being closed due to this issue.
Tudor noted the importance to getting traffic moving both on and under this bridge as soon as possible.
“This bridge is a vital link for freight between east and west of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River is a waterway that is crucial to barge traffic and movement of commodities,” she said.
The bridge, opened in 1973, carries 37,000 vehicles a day, according to data from 2018. The repairs and maintenance of the bridge are handled by Tennessee Department of Transportation crews, with funding split between Arkansas and Tennessee. Both states will share the costs to fix the bridge.
Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen says he’ll work with colleagues in both states to make sure the I-40 bridge repair is included in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.