WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon and other Arkansas leaders on Wednesday called on Congress to act when it comes to the infrastructure bill.
Local officials said the shutdown o f the I-40 bridge isn’t an isolated incident, but a symptom of a larger issue across Arkansas. According to leaders, approximately 700 bridges in the state have been deemed structurally deficient and another 2,000 have been rated below average when it comes to structural soundness.
Crittenden County alone has 25 bridges deemed structurally deficient, and more that have had their weight limits downgraded, Michael John Gray, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party said.
“We have a million and a half people in the state of Arkansas driving over what our department of transportation deems structurally deficient bridges every day,” he said.
“We have got to have an infrastructure plan if east Arkansas is going to survive,” he added.
While the governors in Arkansas and Tennessee have expressed skepticism about the recently proposed federal rescue plan, the Democratic Party of Arkansas believes it would provide crucial funds for projects like the I-40 bridge while allowing the state to maintain its budget.
“It will offset replenished funds. It won’t bankrupt in other words. We’ll be able to carry on with the other projects that we were doing,” said state Sen. Keith Ingram.
A federal evaluation of ARDOT is still pending after what they’ve called a systematic failure to find the crack in the I-40 bridge in a timely manner.
One day after both Republican governors expressed satisfaction disaster was avoided, Democratic leaders struck a more concerned tone.
“I think if we define that the system worked because we averted disaster at the 11th hour, it’s a bad model,” said Ingram.
“To say that, oh the beam didn’t fall into the water and concrete didn’t go tumbling into the river so the system worked. If that’s our bar, we’ve got troubles,” Gray said.
McClendon said in just a matter of days, his city has seen a substantial impact to its economy and revenue since the I-40 bridge has been closed. He called on Congress to put aside their differences and work together to create an infrastructure bill that would fix all bridges in need of repair around the nation.
“I’m hoping that this Congress can work together to come up with a partisan bill to create an infrastructure plan for this area,” said McClendon. “The I-40 bridge being closed is true evidence and proof to the nation that infrastructure needs to be taken care of in this city and many other cities around the country.”
“I just think that Washington, D.C. needs to come to terms, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, and make sure that we can have some type of way to get our infrastructure fixed all over this country,” he added.
McClendon also suggested that it may be time to think about a new bridge, noting it would relieve a lot of traffic through the area.
In the meantime, state leaders encouraged residents to contact their elected officials in Congress to let them know the infrastructure bill is needed.