Arkansas bridge sees traffic spike with I-40 bridge closed
Mayor says traffic sparks conversations of bridge expansion
HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (WMC) - The Highway 49 bridge in Helena-West Helena has taken on some new popularity, providing an alternate route to drivers not wanting to sit still on the I-55 bridge in Memphis since the I-40 bridge in Memphis is shut down.
“We’ve had a lot of increased truck traffic, especially the two-trailer truck, which this bridge really wasn’t designed for in the 60s and 50swhen it was built,” said Helena-West Helena Mayor Kevin Smith.
The mayor said the daily number of drivers across the Highway 49 bridge is around 4,500. He says the state highway department recently laid out traffic counters to measure just how many more are crossing the river.
“We are supposed to be the last two-lane bridge south of St. Louis, according to reports,” Smith said. “This bridge was opened in ’61. The bridge in Memphis was opened in ’73, so it’s brought some much-needed attention to something that’s really long overdue.”
Smith is referring to talks of building a four-lane bridge in this part of the state, which got as far a study being conducted in 2019 and was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bridge is only two lanes, now taking on more traffic, including oversized load transports.
The local welcome center is even reporting triple the number of daily visitors come back and forth on the bridge.
“I wish we wouldn’t wait until something happens to talk about infrastructure,” the mayor said. “We need to talk about it before it happens.”
This bridge was one of nine fracture-critical bridges that were inspected by the same Arkansas Department of Transportation employee that reportedly missed the crack that shut down the I-40 bridge. Smith says he’s spoken with ARDOT and that the bridge is safe.
“They are going to do a full inspection, or reinspection, in mid-June,” Smith said.
The mayor says he’s anxiously awaiting a repair timeline to I-40 but for the time being, says the added drivers are helping the local economy.
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