Photos show I-40 bridge damage in 2016

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 4:51 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - New pictures appear to show damage on the I-40 bridge long before a shocked inspector called 911 last Tuesday to call for its shut down.

Transportation officials have repeatedly said they don’t know how long that steel beam has been damaged.

But after checking the metadata on newly discovered photos and video of the bridge, it looks like the crack was there almost five years ago.

Barry Moore and his son went kayaking on the Mississippi River in August 2016. Moore, an avid picture taker, shot plenty of photographs and recorded video of their adventure, including when they approached the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

With the bridge in the headlines every day for the past week, Moore decided to take a deep dive into his photo collection to see if he might have any photographs that show damage pre-dating 2021. When he looked through his 2016 album, he says he was stunned.

“My jaw dropped,” Moore said. “Yeah, 2016. The crack is past halfway up that box beam. That really took me aback.”

WMC Action News 5 reported last week that two other Memphians found 2019 pics of the crack. The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) confirmed inspector drone video from 2019 also showed it.

Moore says he sent his pictures to ArDOT and to the Tennessee Department of Transportation and received a “thank you” reply from ArDOT. An agency spokesperson declined comment about the 2016 images. It’s unknown right now if the 2016 inspector was the same ArDOT employee fired this week for problems identified with the 2019 and 2020 inspections.

ArDOT’s leader says they’re investigating whether other employees could have failed to carry out their responsibilities correctly.

“This was not a failure of one or more employees,” ArDOT Director Lorie Tudor told a legislative committee Tuesday, May 18, “This was a failure of the inspection process that allowed this to happen.”

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee visited the Bluff City Tuesday afternoon, promising safety is job one, starting with looking at all bridges the terminated inspector may have handled.

“Every bridge that this particular inspector looked at,” said Hutchinson, “or certified that is was in good shape, it’s going to be reviewed again. That’s the double check that we need.”

“Our number one priority here is the safety of the people that travel across that bridge,” said Lee.

As for the man who traveled under the bridge, taking pictures all those years ago:

“Inspectors need to do a better job,” said Moore. “And the states need to follow up. As my boss always told me, check, recheck, and check again.”

ArDOT asked the TDOT to inspect the I-55 bridge just to be sure. TDOT sent two drones up and said the I-55 bridge is safe. They will review the drone footage and compare it with ArDOT’s for a final analysis, according to TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright.

The Federal Highway Administration will also be conducting a comprehensive assessment of ArDOT’S bridge inspection program.

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