Mississippi River opened near Memphis under damaged bridge

State News

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Coast Guard said Friday that river traffic has reopened on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee, three days after it was closed when a crack was discovered in the Interstate 40 bridge that connects Tennessee and Arkansas.

In this undated image released by the Tennessee Department of Transportation shows a crack is in a steel beam on the Interstate 40 bridge, near Memphis, Tenn. The Tennessee Department of Transportation says the crack is in a 900-foot steel beam that provides stability for the Interstate 40 bridge that connects Arkansas and Tennessee over the Mississippi River. The bridge was closed Tuesday, May 11, 2021 after inspectors found the crack. (Tennessee Department of Transportation via AP)

Boats and barges can now cross under the Hernando De Soto Bridge, Petty Officer Carlos Galarza told The Associated Press. River traffic under the bridge was shut down Tuesday after inspectors found a fracture in a steel beam on the span.

The bridge remained closed to vehicle traffic Friday.

Transportation officials wanted to make sure the bridge could stand on its own before re-opening river traffic. More than 45 tug boats hauling about 700 barges had been idled along the river south and north of the bridge, waiting for clearance.

The six-lane bridge into Memphis was closed Tuesday afternoon after inspectors found a “significant fracture” in one of two 900-foot (274-meter) horizontal steel beams that are crucial for the bridge’s integrity, said Lorie Tudor, director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

Road traffic is being rerouted to Interstate 55 and the 71-year-old Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) south.

In an inspection for the 2020 National Bridge Inventory report, the Federal Highway Administration said the I-40 bridge checked out in fair condition overall, with all primary structure elements sound and only some minor cracks and chips in the overall structure. Its structural evaluation checked out “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.”

However, height and width clearances for oversize vehicles were “basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action,” the inspectors found. Tennessee recommended “bridge deck replacement with only incidental widening.”

Arkansas transportation officials said the crack did not appear in the last inspection of the bridge, which occurred in September 2020.

The I-40 bridge, which opened in 1973, carries an average of about 50,000 vehicles a day, with about a quarter being trucks, Tennessee transportation officials say.

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DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Arkansas.

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