River traffic reopened on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee, three days after it closed when a crack was discovered in the Interstate 40 bridge that connects Tennessee and Arkansas, the U.S. Coast Guard said Friday.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation, meanwhile, said a video made by an inspector two years ago found “significant rust and cracks” in the same area as the fracture that caused the bridge to stop this week.
More than 60 tugs hauling more than 1,000 barges were in line on Friday to cross the Hernando De Soto Bridge, the Coast Guard said.
Economic development officials were concerned that the prolonged closure of river traffic could harm the region̵
The bridge itself will remain closed to vehicles indefinitely, with road traffic diverted to Interstate 55 and the 71-year-old Memphis-Arkansas Bridge, about 3 miles (5 miles) south.
River traffic under the six-lane bridge was halted on Tuesday after inspectors found a “significant fracture” in one of two 900-foot (274-meter) horizontal steel beams that are crucial to the bridge’s integrity, said Lori Tudor, director of the ministry. of transportation in Arkansas.
Engineers wanted to ensure that the bridge could stand on its own before opening up river traffic.
“Based on information provided by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard has determined that transit under the I-40 Bridge is safe for maritime transportation,” said Coast Guard Captain Ryan Rhodes, captain of the Port of Memphis. declaration.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation announced on Friday that an image taken from a video of an inspector’s drone in May 2019 showed evidence of damage to the underside of the bridge, the same area as the crack discovered this week.
DOT spokesman Dave Parker said the damage was discovered by a consulting firm that inspected the bridge’s cables this year.
“ARDOT is now investigating to see if these damages were noted in a September 2019 inspection report and, if so, what action has been taken,” the agency said in a statement.
The bridge remained closed as negotiations intensified between the White House and a group of Republican senators for a potential infrastructure package. Democrats said the suspension underscores the urgent need for more infrastructure funding.
Republicans called for a lower-cost infrastructure plan than President Joe Biden and a narrower definition of public works.
The Arkansas Truck Association estimated on Friday that the closure would cost the truck industry at least $ 2.4 million a day due to longer routes to cross the river. The group uses data provided by the American Institute for Transportation Research.
Arkansas Freight Association President Shannon Newton said the journey on the I-40 bridge between the two countries was an average of eight minutes. After the closure of the I-40 bridge, the journeys on the I-55 bridge, used as the nearest alternative route, averaged 84 minutes.
“Even if you watch 6-8 weeks, it’s an incredible expense that the industry can’t just afford,” Newton said.
The Tennessee Transportation Department said there were no indications that the bridge was continuing to deteriorate, and said the designers were working on an interim repair plan that would rely on steel bars to be attached to the bridge and cover the broken section. Designers are also considering installing a steel plate to improve the broken area.
The interim plan will give time to build a new bridge component to replace the damaged part, the agency said.
In an inspection of the 2020 National Bridges Inventory Report, the Federal Highway Administration said the I-40 bridge was inspected in fair condition as a whole, with sound elements of all primary structures and only some small cracks and chips in the overall structure. Its structural assessment checked “slightly better than the minimum adequacy to tolerate staying as it is”.
However, the height and width distances for oversized vehicles are “largely unbearable, requiring a high priority of corrective action”, the inspectors found. Tennessee recommended “replacing the bridge deck with accidental expansion only.”
Arkansas transportation officials said the crack did not appear during the last inspection of the bridge, which took place in September 2020. The bridge was opened in 1973 and carries an average of about 50,000 vehicles a day, about a quarter are trucks, Tennessee transportation officials said.
Tugs pushing barges can be seen passing under the bridge shortly after the Coast Guard announced Friday. Some onlookers came to a riverside park to see the ships.
DeMillo reports from Little Rock, Arkansas.