The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) has terminated the employee who was responsible for inspecting the I-40 bridge connecting Arkansas and Tennessee after a major fracture was discovered.
ARDOT officials said the employee had conducted inspections in 2019 and 2020 that missed the fracture, which was discovered by a consultant on May 11. This fracture, which ARDOT director Lorie Tudor said “had the potential of becoming a catastrophic event,” has resulted in the bridge being shut down to traffic.
The officials did not identify the employee who has been terminated. ARDOT deputy director and chief engineer Rex Vines said the employee had been at the department around 15 years.
Tudor noted that the employee “failed to carry out his responsibilities correctly.” The Department of Transportation has handed the case off to federal agencies for further investigation. Tudor said this is a federal issue, so the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office will be investigating the matter and pursuing any courses of action.
However, Tudor noted that this incident highlighted a greater failure than individual negligence. “This is not about the failure of one employee. This is about the failure of the inspection process that allowed this to happen,” she said.
ARDOT will be going back and re-inspecting all bridges that the fired employee was responsible for inspecting. In addition, ARDOT has asked Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to do a drone inspection of the I-55 bridge, which has seen increased traffic due to the closure of the I-40 bridge, to provide confidence to members of the public.
“We understand that in order to regain the public trust and confidence, we will need to be transparent and accountable and we are committed to doing so. We will correct this problem and we will become better for it,” Tudor said.