BCN Staff – Aug. 2, 2021 –The Interstate 40 Hernando de Soto Bridge over the Mississippi River will reopen today under limited traffic while contractors finish up work started over two months ago, according to Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) Director Lorie Tudor.
Contractors were expected to complete all the phase three plating by Friday (July 30), Tudor announced last week. They will begin to demobilize, break down platforms, and remove equipment and barriers starting with the eastbound direction. They will do this one side at a time to maintain the safest scenario for the workers, she said.
“The success we are celebrating today is a result of amazing collaboration and effort by the team that was formed immediately following the closure,” Tudor said on Wednesday. “We thank TDOT for their excellent leadership of the team in reopening the bridge in record time. We also thank the public for their patience.”
ARDOT and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) first announced on May 11 (here) they had indefinitely shut down the I-40 bridge adjoining the Arkansas-Tennessee state line, leaving thousands of motorists and truckers stranded or stuck in three-state traffic jams in the area surrounding one of the nation’s busiest transportation corridors.
In a press conference held Wednesday (May 12) in Little Rock, Tudor said highway officials in Tennessee and Arkansas were working together to safely repair and reopen the Interstate 40 Bridge over the Mississippi River. ARDOT officials later confirmed a routine bridge inspection on May 11 by global engineering firm 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. At the time, Tudor called the “significant fracture” crucial to the structural integrity of the I-40 double arch bridge between West Memphis, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tenn., built between 1967 and 1973. Subsequently, Tudor said she fired a longtime ARDOT employee who conducted the inspection in both 2019 and 2020 and failed to carry out his responsibilities correctly.
Formally known as the Hernando de Soto Bridge, the M-shaped crossing had a seismic retrofit between 2000 and 2011 to allow the Mississippi River structure to withstand a 7.7 magnitude earthquake. The bridge is located within 100 miles of the New Madrid Seismic zone, a major earthquake fault line that abuts parts of Arkansas and nearby Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and four other Midwest states. The bridge was also inspected in September 2020, but that safety check did not reveal any structural deficiencies, highway officials said.
A week after the bridge was shut down and traffic rerouted to Interstate 55 and State Highway 49, ARDOT and TDOT officials selected Kiewit Corp. to perform the repairs to the bridge. The selection was based on qualifications, experience, and availability of personnel and equipment. Other partners included Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), TDOT’s consultant Michael Baker, Inc. (MBI), and ARDOT’s consultant HNTB.
“Back in May, we speculated that it would be the end of July, first of August to work through all the phases needed to reopen the bridge,” said TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright. “We did not know then what all would be involved, but what I do know is we have all been fortunate to have had a great team that personally took on this project and worked tirelessly to safely reopen the bridge as soon as possible.”
Under the limited reopening plan, all I-40 eastbound lanes heading into Tennessee will reopen by 6 a.m. All westbound lanes in Arkansas will reopen on Friday at a time to be announced later, barring any further complications, officials said.
Earlier this summer after the 1.8-mile Mississippi River bridge was shut down, the Arkansas Trucking Association released a report saying the trucking industry had absorbed over $70 million in unanticipated costs. However, in late June, the ATA released revised data suggesting that the work-around to reroute traffic in one of the nation’s busiest transportation corridors had reduced financial costs to the trucking industry from $2.4 million to $936,000 a day.
In early June, as Congress began debating a $1 billion highway and bridge infrastructure plan proposed by President Joe Biden, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Memphis to tour the bridge and speak with Arkansas and Tennessee highway officials.
ARDOT and TDOT share joint responsibility for care of the I-40 bridge with Arkansas highway officials handling inspections and Tennessee handline repairs. Highway officials warn that the bridge remains an active work zone and cautions motorists to pay attention to the interstate digital message signs, portable message boards, and IDriveArkansas for specific traffic information. ARDOT also has a webpage dedicated to bridge repair here.
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