Following the discovery of a major fracture on the I-40 bridge between Arkansas and Tennessee, state and federal officials are scrambling to develop a solution to stabilize the structure.
Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) officials said that efforts to develop a solution for the bridge fracture are already underway. ARDOT deputy director and chief engineer Rex Vines told reporters during a Monday afternoon press conference that a structure team, composed of ARDOT engineers, Tennessee Department of Transportation (ARDOT) officials, consultants and others, is working on a two-phase plan.
This team is developing both a temporary solution designed to stabilize the bridge’s beam and refining a solution that will be a permanent repair. According to Vines, the team is dedicated to getting it [the bridge] open as quickly as possible.”
“The first phase will be adding spliced plates – structural steel plating – to the outside of the beams to stabilize it. This will prevent any further propagation of the crack and it will allow the contractor to work on the structure,” Vines said.
A structural plate design was sent to a manufacturer, and Vines said that the building process started on Monday morning.
Phase 2 is still in the development process, but Vines said that current plans involve using high-strength steel rods to span the fracture and to strengthen the bridge beam. The fractured section of the bridge would then be removed and replaced.
With the initial repair designs completed, requests for qualifications and proposals have been sent out to contractors around the United States. The contractors’ proposals were due today at 10 a.m. A contractor could be selected by Monday afternoon, Vines said during the press conference.
Until a contractor is selected, ARDOT officials said that they do not have a timeline on when the bridge will be reopened. Phase 1 will not allow traffic to return to the bridge but will enable the contractor to work safely on the bridge. A timeline could be revealed by the end of the week, Vines said.
Once the repairs are completed, ARDOT will continue to monitor the bridge and will be looking at ways to bolster its inspection process. He said that ARDOT would be adding redundancies to inspections but these processes have reportedly not been fully decided yet.
ARDOT director Lorie Tudor revealed that the Federal Highway administration will be conducting an assessment of the department’s processes and procedures.
In the wake of this discovery, ARDOT has terminated the employee responsible for overseeing the bridge’s inspection. ARDOT has handed over investigation of the unidentified employee to federal agencies, and Tudor said criminal charges could potentially be filed.
Tudor has asked TDOT to perform a drone inspection of the I-55 bridge, where traffic has been routed with the I-40 bridge’s shutdown, to restore public confidence. “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.