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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge over the Mississippi River could remain closed to vehicles for months

Wednesday, the Tennessee Department of Transportation said it's "plausible" the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge may not reopen to vehicles for months, not weeks.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — UPDATE 5/13/2021 - From the Arkansas Department of Transportation: 

The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) are working together to safely repair and reopen the Interstate 40 Bridge over the Mississippi River, according to agency officials.

A new webpage, dedicated to this closure of the I-40 Mississippi River Bridge, is available and we have attached two new photos. You can also stay current on this issue by following @myARDOT on Twitter and explore using the hashtag #40MSRiverBridge. Find additional information at IDriveArkansas.com or ARDOT.gov.

RELATED: Arkansas and Tennessee crews are working to repair the "crack" in the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge

RELATED: Do Memphis & the Mid-South need a third bridge over the Mississippi River?

RELATED: Mid-South leaders react to the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge closure due to "crack"

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5-12-2021 - 4:15 p.m. - The I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge remains shut down for emergency maintenance due to a crack.  

From the Arkansas Department of Transportation:

"The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) are working together to safely repair and reopen the Interstate 40 Bridge over the Mississippi River, according to agency officials.

A routine bridge inspection on May 11 by Michael Baker International revealed a significant fracture in a steel support beam that is crucial for the structure of the bridge. The inspector immediately notified emergency services and shut down all access to the bridge, including barge traffic on the Mississippi River.

“Our primary goal is the safety of the road users,” said ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor during a press briefing today, “and our secondary goal is to reopen the bridge to traffic as soon as we can safely do so.”

The September 2020 inspection did not reveal any structural deficiencies.

“The fracture is a result of wear-and-tear,” shared ARDOT Assistant Chief Engineer of Operations Steve Frisbee. “We are taking extra precautions and inspecting the rest of the bridge for problematic damage while it is closed to traffic.”

Arkansas and Tennessee share responsibilities and costs for the bridge; ARDOT manages inspections while TDOT oversees maintenance and repairs. TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges said the repairs could take weeks, possibly months.

“Even simple solutions such as welding a repair into place is more complicated with this bridge due to its size and that it’s over water,” Frisbee explained.

ARDOT completed more than 10,000 bridge inspections with 27 ARDOT teams and additional consultants in 2020.

“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,” Director Tudor said.

Stay current on this issue by following @myARDOT on Twitter and explore using the hashtag #40MSRiverBridge. Find additional information at IDriveArkansas.com or ARDOT.gov

RELATED: 'This could be months rather than weeks' | TDOT, ARDOT work to repair & reopen I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge

RELATED: From barges to trucking, how the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge shutdown could affect the supply chain

Credit: ARDOT
Credit: ARDOT

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5-12-2021 - Wednesday morning in a news conference, those with the Tennessee Department of Transportation said it's "plausible" the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge may not reopen for vehicles for months, not weeks.

Tuesday, the bridge - which gets around 45,000 daily cars and trucks between Arkansas and Tennessee - was shut down indefinitely after an inspection crew from the Arkansas Department of Transportation found a crack on one the bridge's steel beams.

"For us, safety is our number one with our roads and bridges out there," TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright said.

Those with TDOT said the first priority in the days ahead is to analyze the bridge's structure to make sure it's safe for inspectors to get out on that bridge for repair,  and to ensure the bridge is safe to reopen barge traffic under the bridge.

"We are having to recalculate, redo the engineering to look at the bridge and determine what is the capacity of the bridge to stand under its own weight, and also to carry traffic," TDOT Deputy Commissioner Paul Degges added.

Credit: TDOT
Credit: TDOT

The next question for the Arkansas Department of Transportation and TDOT is if - and when - traffic could again go over the bridge, both partially or fully during construction.

TDOT is in charge of maintenance repairs while ARDOT is in charge of re-examining the bridge's structures.

"Safety is number one for us but we absolutely want to get the bridge open as soon as possible but we are not going to shoot from hip here," Commissioner Bright added.

Those with TDOT said each of the roughly 19,000 bridges in Tennessee are inspected once every two years.

A spokesperson confirmed in the previous two inspections of the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge, it was found to be in "fair" condition.

Traffic for cars and trucks for the foreseeable future will be rerouted on the I-55 bridge, giving that more than 70-year-old structure twice the daily traffic.

The Coast Guard has also been notified to assist with barges on the Mississippi River on both sides of the I-40 bridge, currently docked until transportation teams give the go ahead for them to again pass through downtown Memphis on the water.

As for Big River Crossing, George Abbott, Director of External Affairs for Memphis River Parks Partnership, sent the following statement to Local 24: 

"With the closure of the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge, as you can imagine, there are many traffic variables and precautions currently in the mix that differ between the West Memphis and Memphis sides of the river, and decisions must be made accordingly. 

Memphis River Parks Partnership is the management entity for the Memphis entrance to Big River Crossing. The Memphis side of the bridge remains open to pedestrians and bikers, as we are not experiencing the vehicular congestion Arkansas is currently facing. We will continue to monitor the situation and adapt quickly as necessary."

 Watch the TDOT news conference HERE or below. 

The Arkansas Department of Transportation held a news conference at noon. You can watch HERE or below.

You will need to find alternate routes if you are traveling over the Mississippi River. Local 24 Meteorologist Chelsea Chandler has provided some help with that in the video below.

RELATED: I-40 bridge closed indefinitely while crews assess severity of cracked beam

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5-11-2021 - 5:40 p.m. - From the Tennessee Department of Transportation

"Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) contract crews will begin emergency repairs on the I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge over the Mississippi River after a routine inspection uncovered a crack in the bottom side of the bridge truss. For the motoring public's safety, the bridge will be entirely shut down while crews investigate the crack's extent further and then repair the problem, which could take some time.

TDOT shares responsibility for the bridge with the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT). An ArDOT contractor discovered the problem during a routine inspection and immediately shut down the bridge. It is unclear, at this time, how long the repairs will take. Detours are in place in Tennessee and Arkansas. Traffic is being rerouted in both directions to I-55 as an alternate route across the river. River traffic is also shut down until further notice. 

From your desktop or mobile device, get the latest construction activity and live streaming SmartWay traffic cameras at www.TNSmartWay.com/Traffic. Travelers can also dial 511 for travel information or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TN511 for statewide travel or for West Tennessee follow https://twitter.com/NicLawrenceTDOT."

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4:30 p.m. - From the Arkansas Department of Transportation: 

"A routine bridge inspection of the Interstate 40 Mississippi River Bridge revealed a crack that requires further investigation, according to Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) officials. The bridge is closed to all traffic until further notice.

ARDOT is working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to make sure the bridge is safe for motorists before it is reopened to any traffic. Updates will be issued as they are available.

Arkansas I-40 eastbound traffic should take Exit 5 to Interstate 55 to cross the Mississippi River into Memphis.

Tennessee I-40 westbound traffic should take the I-55 Bridge across the Mississippi River to cross into Arkansas and then take Exit 4 to access I-40 westbound.

Law enforcement officials are working to reroute traffic currently halted on Interstate 40.

Find traffic updates on Twitter @myARDOT, @IDriveArkansas, and @myTDOT."

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3:15 p.m. - You’ll want to avoid the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge Tuesday afternoon.

Memphis Police said all lanes of the bridge have been shut down due to maintenance. MPD said the bridge is being inspected.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation tweeted out that a routine inspection revealed a crack in the bridge that needed further investigation.

It’s unknown when the bridge will reopen.

Drivers should take an alternate route until further notice.

We will let you know when the bridge reopens. 

Credit: WATN
Credit: WATN
Credit: WATN

Live traffic maps show the impact the bridge shutdown is having on highway traffic.