Interstate 40 bridge between Arkansas and Tennessee shut down

May 12, 2021

Tyson Fisher

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Interstate 40 bridge
Damaged steel beam on the Interstate 40 bridge. Photo courtesy Arkansas Department of Transportation.

 

Motorists who rely on the Interstate 40 bridge over the Mississippi River in Arkansas and Tennessee for their travels will need to find a new route after a newly discovered crack has shut down the bridge indefinitely.

On May 11, the Arkansas Department of Transportation announced that crews found a crack in the I-40 bridge during a routine inspection. ARDOT shut down the bridge to all traffic as crews further investigate the damage. Lorie Tudor, ARDOT director, said on Wednesday the damage is a significant fracture in a steel beam that is crucial to the bridge’s structural integrity.

Exactly when the I-40 bridge will reopen has yet to be determined.

Tudor said it is too early to be sure, but the state is hopeful it will have short- and long-term solutions available soon. ARDOT is coordinating with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to ensure the bridge is safe before reopening it to any traffic. Per the bridge agreement, ARDOT is responsible for routine maintenance, and TDOT is responsible for maintenance and repairs. Both states share equal costs.

In the meantime, motorists traveling on I-40 eastbound in Arkansas are to take Exit 5 to Interstate 55 to cross the Mississippi River into Memphis. Those traveling westbound on the Tennessee side of I-40 should take the Interstate 55 bridge across the Mississippi River to get into Arkansas. From there, take Exit 4 to access I-40 westbound.

The Interstate 55 bridge was built in 1949. However, ARDOT officials assured the public that the bridge is in good condition and can handle the extra load. The last inspection on that bridge was in August 2020. ARDOT reports it is looking at the I-55 bridge again out of caution.

Opened to traffic in 1973, the I-40 bridge normally carries about 41,000 vehicles each day, 30% of which are commercial vehicles.

“This bridge is a vital link for freight east and west of the Mississippi River,” Tudor said during a news conference on Wednesday. “The Mississippi River is a waterway that is crucial to barge traffic and movement of commodities.”

ARDOT and TDOT have brought in nationally known engineering experts in bridge forensics. Rex Vine, ARDOT deputy director and chief engineer, said possible solutions are still under investigation. There is no timeline at this point while officials are waiting for diagnostics on the nearly 50-year-old bridge. The Federal Highway Administration has authorized emergency contract authority for TDOT. LL

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Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.