Investigations are continuing on an infrastructure crack found on the Hernando de Soto Bridge, which connects Arkansas and Tennessee.
On Tuesday, May 11, a routine inspection revealed the presence of a crack in the I-40 bridge. As a result, the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) and the Tennessee Department of Transportation closed down all traffic on the bridge, rerouting traffic to I-55.
Tennessee transportation officials told media members on Wednesday that it is unclear when the bridge will be reopened.
In a news conference, ARDOT director Lorie Tudor said that the crack was a “significant fracture” that endangered the structural integrity of the bridge. The fracture, she said, was discovered by an ARDOT consultant who was under contract for a routine inspection
According to deputy director and chief engineer Rex Vines, the last inspection of the bridge took place in September 2020. However, he noted that the fracture was not present at that time.
Steve Frisbee, ARDOT assistant chief engineer for operations, said that the fracture was located approximately between two arches on the bridge. The fracture, he said, was three-fourths of the way across the bridge, closer to the Tennessee side of the bridge.
“This fracture had the potential of becoming a catastrophic event that was prevented by our staff’s diligent efforts in managing our bridge inspection program,” Tudor said.
As part of the agreement between Arkansas and Tennessee, ARDOT handles all inspections for the bridge, while the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) handles maintenance and repair. The states split the costs of these operations evenly.
Tudor said that she has spoken with TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright who has reportedly obtained emergency contracting authority from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). She also said that the FHA has contacted her, informing her that they will work to provide the funding necessary for the project. “We’re going to get that bridge up and going. We’ll figure out a way if we have to go straight to Washington, but we’ll take care of it,” she said.
As far as a timeline, Tudor said that the transportation departments were looking at both the short-term and long-term. A diagnostic evaluation is currently underway to determine a plan of action. Once the evaluation is completed, officials will determine a remedy.
“It is too early to be sure, but we are hopeful that a short-term and a long-term solution will be made available. Our goal is to reopen the bridge as soon as possible while ensuring the safety of motorists and barge traffic,” he said.
With the Hernando de Soto Bridge down, traffic is being diverted to the Memphis & Arkansas Bridge on I-55. This bridge, which opened to traffic in 1949, has also been inspected recently. According to Frisbee, the bridge is in good condition but the transportation department was inspected it out of caution.
The Hernando de Soto Bridge was opened in 1973 and handles approximately 41,000 vehicles per day, according to Tudor. Of this traffic, 30 percent is commercial traffic. “This bridge is a vital link to freight east and west of the Mississippi River,” she said.