TDOT working to get answers on I-40 bridge reopening timeline

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 6:26 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee Department of Transportation has been given emergency management authority by the U.S. Department of Transportation to move forward with an emergency contract to make repairs to the I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

A crack was found in one of the bridge’s support beams during a routine inspection by Michael Baker International, a consulting firm contracted by the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) to perform a routine inspection on the bridge.

“Of those four plates of steel,” TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges began to describe, “three of the plates have just separated, and the bottom piece of it, the fourth piece, has a crack about 20% of the width of the steel.”

TDOT and ARDOT split the duties of bridge upkeep on the I-40 bridge. ARDOT performs inspections, and TDOT does repairs.

Even though priority is being placed on repairing the bridge, as of Wednesday, inspectors are not even allowed on the bridge due to the uncertainty of the bridge’s capacity.

“We’re having to re-calculate, redo, the engineering,” Degges said, “to look at the bridge and say ‘Well, what is the structural capacity of the bridge? Can it stand under its own weight and also carry traffic?’”

Degges said he hopes to have results as to whether or not the bridge can stand on its own in the next day or so.

If so, it would mean inspectors are allowed on and barges can begin to move underneath the bridge again.

“Safety is number one for us, but we absolutely want to get the bridge open as soon as possible,” said TDOT Director Clay Bright. “We are not going to shoot from the hip here. We want to have the best fix, long-term, to get this bridge back open.”

Around 41,000 drivers cross the bridge on a daily basis, 30 percent of those driving commercial vehicles.

That traffic is having to be diverted to the I-55 bridge.

Deggs said it’s an older bridge but it has the capacity to handle the weight of the increase of traffic.

“On each side of 55, we’re going to locate the help truck operator on each side to be there 24 hours a day. If there’s any incident... we want to get that incident cleared out as soon as possible so that we can let traffic continue to operate on that particular bridge.”

Both TDOT reps say once inspectors are allowed on the bridge, it could still take several weeks for a report to come back.

Until that report comes back, it’s uncertain if drivers will be allowed back on the bridge, even on a single lane, while repairs are being made, or if it will be remained closed until the crack has been repaired.

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