TDOT: It’s unclear when I-40 bridge will reopen


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Officials with the Tennessee Department of Transportation said they do not know when the I-40 bridge will be open during a news conference in Memphis Wednesday.

According to state authorities, Arkansas hired a team to take a look at the bridge as part of routine inspections every two years. The team on the ground saw a fracture Tuesday and immediately called 911 to have the bridge shut down.

Also known as the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, the structure carries traffic on I-40 over the Mississippi River between Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas. It opened in 1973 and carried more than 37,000 vehicles a day in 2018. It was last inspected in 2019 and is inspected every two years, TDOT said.

Officials with TDOT said Wednesday they are in charge of maintenance and repairs, with the states of Arkansas and Tennessee splitting the costs for the repairs. Right now they are in the process of analyzing whether or not it will be safe for their crews to go back out on bridge, for barge traffic to travel underneath it, and whether or not it will even hold its own weight.

When asked about when the bridge could be back open, officials couldn’t provide an estimate, saying it all depends on what they find during that analysis. On WREG’s Live at 9 Wednesday, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said he spoke with state leaders and TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright for about 45 minutes Tuesday evening.

He was under the impression it would take months rather than weeks to get the needed repairs.

In addition, river traffic is also shut down until further notice, according to TDOT. Barges are parked up and down the Mississippi River waiting for traffic to reopen. Authorities said they have been in contact with national authorities in regards to the stalled traffic.

The Coast Guard issued a waterway restriction to all vessel traffic on the Lower Mississippi River Tuesday near the I-40 bridge in Memphis, Tennessee. 

The waterway restriction closes the river to all vessel traffic between mile marker 736 and mile marker 737 on the Lower Mississippi River and was put into place due to a crack discovered by the Arkansas Department of Transportation on the I-40 bridge near the center span.

There are currently 16 vessels with a total of 229 barges in the queue. The Coast Guard released the following statement about the shutdown of a portion of the Lower Mississippi River due to the issue with the bridge.

The Coast Guard is currently working with Arkansas Department of Transportation, Tennessee Department of Transportation and river industry stakeholders on this developing situation. Based on the current information available, we have closed a portion of the Lower Mississippi River out of an abundance of caution. The captain of the port is monitoring the situation and will continue to ensure the safety of the maritime environment and surrounding community.

Capt. Ryan Rhodes, captain of the Port of Memphis

In the meantime, 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.

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