Ramp, lane closures coming on I-55 detour around I-40 bridge closure

May 21, 2021

Tyson Fisher

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As crews and transportation officials scramble to repair the I-40 bridge near Memphis, traffic on the Interstate 55 bridge is delaying motorists up to two hours with reports of miles-long backups.

Motorists are finding themselves waiting in long lines on Interstates 40 and 55 near Memphis. The I-40 bridge shutdown has forced motorists to use the I-55 bridge instead, causing major headaches for drivers mostly on the Arkansas side.

WATN-TV in Memphis reports that data released by HERE Technologies shows that congestion on the I-55 bridge was at 10% the day before the I-40 bridge shut down. Now, congestion is at more than 50% on the I-55 bridge. On social media, motorists are reporting being stuck in traffic for up to two hours in a traffic backup as long as 3 miles.

According to the Arkansas Trucking Association, the previous 8-minute drive is now averaging 84 minutes, costing the industry $2.4 million each day the bridge is closed. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the once 15-minute travel times on Interstate 55 have turned into commutes as long as 75 minutes as of Monday, May 17.

I-40 bridge traffic map
This screenshot of ARDOT’s IDrive map taken at noon CDT on Friday, May 21, shows the traffic situation near Memphis.

On Saturday, May 22, the Tennessee Department of Transportation plans to close ramps and lanes on I-55 at the Crump Interchange to restripe lanes.

According to TDOT, the work will improve the traffic flow from Arkansas while the I-40 bridge is closed. The following closure will remain in place until I-40 is reopened. TDOT states the closure is to allow I-55 traffic to free flow and not compete with merging ramp traffic:

  • I-55 NB Entrance ramp from Metal Museum Drive – Detour to Riverside Drive. to West McLemore Avenue to I-55 North.
  • Loop ramp from WB Crump to I-55 South – Detour to SR 14 (South Third Street) to W. McLemore to I-55 South.
  • I-55 NB Exit ramp to Metal Museum Drive – Detour to I-55 South to West McLemore Avenue to Riverside Drive to Metal Museum Drive.
  • I-55 SB Entrance ramp from Metal Museum – Detour to Riverside Drive to West McLemore Avenue to I-55.

TDOT and the Arkansas Department of Transportation announced a loose timeline of when the I-40 bridge will reopen. Transportation officials are estimating it will take several months to finish repairs.

Motorists traveling on I-40 eastbound in Arkansas are to take Exit 5 to Interstate 55 to cross the Mississippi River. 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. Those detours have caused the massive congestion on the I-55 bridge.

ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor confirmed reports of drone footage from 2019 showing the fracture on the I-40 bridge.

Tudor blamed a single inspector for missing the fracture during both the 2019 and 2020 inspections. Consequently, that inspector was terminated Monday morning.

Since then, ARDOT has released the other bridges that inspector was responsible for. Specifically, he inspected nine fracture critical bridges last year. ARDOT will be re-inspecting those bridges, which is expected to be complete by the end of June. Those bridges are located at:

  • White River/Newporton at Highway 367
  • Table Rock/Beaver Bridge at Highway 187
  • Mississippi River/West Helena at Highway 49
  • Arkansas River/Fort Smith at Interstate 540
  • White River/Des Arc at Highway 38
  • Mississippi River/West Memphis at Interstate 40
  • Arkansas River/Fort Smith at Highway 64 (two bridges)
  • Arkansas River/Little Rock at Highway 70

Additionally, several news outlets are reporting that a kayaker is claiming to have photos of the fracture that he captured five years ago. According to CBS News, an Associated Press photo editor determined the photo was shot in August 2016 based on metadata from one of the photos. As of publication, ARDOT has not confirmed or denied the legitimacy of the photos. If found to be credible, the photos reveal the severe fracture went unnoticed for at least five years.

For more information about progress on the I-40 bridge, visit a website dedicated to the issue here. LL

WW Williams

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.