Final I-40 bridge inspection reports lay out future parameters for ArDOT

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 6:03 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The punctuation mark has finally been placed at the end of the long sentence that is the I-40 bridge shutdown.

The three reports that were brought to light on Thursday were the internal investigation from the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT), the investigation from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the forensic analysis of the fractured support beam, performed by Wiss, Janey, Elster Associates Inc.

Some of what was reported was information we already knew, such as the former ArDOT inspector who inspected the I-40 bridge in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020.

“He admitted to knowingly -- and I’m reading this -- knowingly failed to perform an inspection on the outside of the tie girder because it was unsafe to do so in his opinion,” said Dave Parker, ArDOT’s Public Information Officer, reading off the ArDOT report.

What we also learned was in 2018, an inexperienced inspector took on the I-40 inspection.

His situation was different in that he lacked the proper training to take on that type of inspection.

“He believed he had inspected the bridge accurately, based on his training and based on what he’s been told,” Parker said.

That inspector is receiving additional training.

Meanwhile, the former inspector is potentially facing criminal charges.

Also, two “key members” of ArDOT’s Heavy Bridge Maintenance Section, according to Parker, have since opted to retire from the department.

The ArDOT report state the department is awaiting the results from the US DOT Office of Inspector General (OIG).

What’s more is the crack in the support beam, that we know formed in 2016, stemmed from a problem that dates to the bridge’s founding.

The forensic analysis shows there were faults in the steel that was gathered to fabricate the support beam, resulting in internal inconsistencies.

“Those inconsistencies still existed, unseen to the naked eye, inside the steel. Over time, it developed into a problem and obviously started to crack,” Parker said.

Steel samples from other parts of the bridge were taken for analysis to see if those same inconsistencies exist throughout the bridge.

What has come from this is ArDOT is setting new parameters for future bridge inspections.

“...Placing the Heavy Bridge Maintenance section under new management, re-organize the program, create a bridge inspection oversight policy committee and a bridge inspection technical subcommittee, add additional personnel to the program...” Parker laid out.

Bridges will also not be examined by the same inspector for consecutive years.

Parker pointed to the FHWA report to state ArDOT’s process is a strong one, despite the actions of a few that resulted in a three month closure and a $10 million price tag.

“(FHWA) were very complementary of (the program). They were very complementary of it on several occasions. They listed it as a commendable practice and that our people who are doing bridge maintenance and inspection are good people, hardworking people,” Parker said.

Parker also spoke on the I-55 bridge inspections that were performed shortly after the I-40 bridge’s reopening.

He said the inspection showed the bridge held up well, aside from a few minor maintenance issues.

The I-40 bridge was also scheduled a routine inspection in September, but because so many inspections were done on the bridge shortly before its reopening in August ArDOT decided to push back that inspection.

Another inspection date has yet to be set.

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