MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Two Mid-South towns more than an hour away from Memphis are being directly affected by the Interstate 40 bridge shutdown, and the traffic and tourists are changing life as people know it in the Mississippi Delta.
With the Interstate 40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge closed for repairs, some drivers are traveling about seventy miles south of Memphis to cross the Mississippi River.
It’s meant the Helena Bridge between Helena-West Helena, Arkansas and Lula, Mississippi is carrying the additional load of traffic.
“We are so close to Memphis we immediately knew how that was going to impact traffic here because a lot of people would be diverting to come through Helena, and that’s proven to be the case,” said Helen Halbert, chief of staff in Helena-West Helena.
The Helena Bridge is the only two-lane bridge crossing the southern portion of the Mississippi River. Since the I-40 bridge closure this town of about 10,000 people has been seeing a traffic uptick.
“We have a much smaller bridge than the one up there, but we have had a lot of folks coming through since that happened,” Halbert said.
The detour also has more large trucks rolling through and challenging the town’s infrastructure.
“We have a lot more 18-wheelers coming through and a big increase in truck traffic and I think, as I had mentioned, we have had a big uptick in calls to the mayor’s office regarding the number of trucks and people coming through that area,” Halbert said.
Across the river about 30 miles east in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the detour has some people wanting to experience the blues.
“Here at the Delta Blues Museum, we’ve been open since 1979 and we bring a lot of tourists in,” said museum manager April Shaw.
Tourists are stopping by to explore the museum because of the bridge closure.
“People who come from Tennessee say they have to take Arkansas’ bridge to get around to come to us, but we have seen a lot of tourists coming in,” she said.
Because of the I-40 shutdown, Helena-West Helena went from averaging about 4,000 cars on its bridge to about 10,000 a day.