Official: Repairs to interstate bridge could take months

Full Screen
1 / 6

A crack in a steel beam, found the day before, has forced the closure of the Interstate 40 bridge that connects Arkansas and Tennessee, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Repairs to the Interstate 40 bridge linking Arkansas and Tennessee could take months after a crack was found in the span, forcing thousands of trucks and cars to detour and shutting down shipping on a section of the Mississippi River, a transportation official said Wednesday.

A congressional Democrat from Tennessee flagged the crack as a warning sign of the urgent need to act on fixes to the nation’s infrastructure. Republican U.S. senators also pointed out the need for infrastructure spending while criticizing Biden's plan.

The six-lane bridge into Memphis was shut down 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.

Both states' transportation agencies said they would make sure the 48-year-old, 1.8-mile (2.9-kilometer) bridge is safe before reopening.

“This fracture had the potential of becoming a catastrophic event that was prevented by our staff’s diligent effort in managing our bridge inspection program,” Tudor said.

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

River traffic was also shut down in the Memphis area until further notice, the Tennessee Department of Transportation said. The U.S. Coast Guard said 16 tug boats hauling more than 220 barges were waiting in line Wednesday.

At least four tugs attached to barges sat idle Wednesday near a boat ramp at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the bridge.