Barge Traffic Resumes Under Cracked Bridge in Memphis

The discovery of the crack in the I-40 bridge comes amid a renewed focus on infrastructure in Washington.

A crack is in a steel beam on the Interstate 40 bridge near Memphis, Tenn. (Tennessee Department of Transportation via AP)

(CN) – The U.S. Coast Guard has allowed river traffic on the Mississippi River to resume under a Memphis bridge after an inspector’s discovery of a large crack in a beam shut down the bridge linking Tennessee and Arkansas.

On Friday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard said 62 vessels and more than 1,000 barges were lined up and waiting to pass underneath the Hernando de Soto Bridge. After determining it was safe for boats and barges to pass underneath the structure, the Coast Guard allowed the traffic to proceed.

The Coast Guard had closed a one-mile stretch of the Big Muddy on Wednesday to wait for the Tennessee Department of Transportation to finish an inspection after the crack was discovered the day before.

The Interstate-40 bridge that connects Arkansas and Tennessee. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

While the river traffic can once again travel north and south, the six-lane bridge that typically supports vehicles traveling east and west sits empty.

The closure, according to officials, heads off what could have been a major incident on a bridge that is a crucial transportation route. Around 41,000 vehicles, about a third of them tractor trailers, used the Interstate-40 bridge each day.

On Thursday, the Arkansas Department of Transportation said temporary repairs would have to be made before it would be safe for crews to begin work on a more permanent repair.

The empty bridge highlights the state of many of the nation’s roads and bridges as the Biden administration is attempting to forge a compromise on an infrastructure bill this week. In remarks Thursday, President Joe Biden said Democrats and Republicans need to agree on what exactly makes up infrastructure.

On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg retweeted a picture of the rusted crack on the I-40 bridge which seemingly severed the green-painted beam and wrote, “There is nothing partisan about making sure our bridges are safe to drive on.”

Other pictures of the beam, looking at its underside, showed a strip of metal held the beam together.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, said he was pleased that a routine inspection prevented what could have been a disaster.

“Clearly, investments in infrastructure in this country are needed, and infrastructure is roads and bridges,” Lee said.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation believes the fracture may have been caused by the shrinking and expanding of the nearly five-decade-old bridge due to changes in temperature over the years.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation said in a Facebook post it may take “a couple weeks” to repair the bridge.

%d bloggers like this: