Buttigieg hears far-reaching effects of I-40 bridge closure on trucking, shipping industries

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 5:29 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg sat down for a round table discussion in Memphis Thursday with FedEx and freight leaders on the impacts on the I-40 bridge shutdown due to a steel beam fracture.

The closure of the I-40 Hernando DeSoto bridge is severely impacting FedEx’s ability to move freight across the country, but it is also having ripple effects on the entire trucking industry.

Buttigieg says he plans to use what he learned today to change future infrastructure policy.

The round table included leaders in the trucking industry, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen and a local trucking small business representative.

“The greater Memphis metro area is critical to the national supply chain of the United States and the global supply chain,” said Buttigieg.

Trucking leaders estimate $2 million a day is lost as long as the bridge is closed.

Jason Higginbotham with Ozark Motor Lines says truckers all over the country are being affected by an estimated hour delay going over I-55 during the I-40 bridge closure.

“We see the impact across the country, you have to make the decision hundreds of miles away before you ever reach Memphis,” said Higginbotham.

Political leaders acknowledged the national infrastructure system is in need of repair and this crisis is a perfect example.

This comes as Washington D.C. currently debates President Joe Biden’s multi-trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

“What’s happening in Memphis right now is a microcosm of what’s happening in the country,” said Cohen. “Old bridges that are in need of repair, that are in need of inspection for safety purposes. We fortunately did not have a tragedy here or loss of life, but it easily could have happened and it’ll happen somewhere else.”

“We’ve got to work on our infrastructure,” said Donna England with the Tennessee Trucking Association. “Our interstate is aging.”

After the round table, Buttigieg toured the closed I-40 bridge and surveyed the damage.

In the afternoon, he spoke about how this closure shows the urgency of enacting sweeping infrastructure improvements and repairs nationwide.

“We have, as a country, really been coasting off infrastructure decisions that were made generations ago,” said Buttigieg. “And they served America well in the 20th century and into the beginning of the 21st. But it is long past time for those generations in responsibility to do our part.”

For the first time, Tennessee Department of Transportation officials gave a timetable of when the bridge repairs may be completed.

Officials say steel beams will be delivered later this month and work will stretch into July and possibly August before the bridge can reopen.

Transportation officials also say the safety inspection on the I-55 bridge confirmed that bridge is in good condition as expected and can handle the extra load going across due to the I-40 bridge closure.

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