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Arkansas DOT fires inspector who failed to catch I-40 bridge crack in 2019

Arkansas DOT fires inspector who failed to catch I-40 bridge crack in 2019
This still image, taken from 2019 drone footage, shows what was then a crack in the Interstate 40 bridge linking Arkansas and Mississippi. According to the Arkansas Department of Transportation, the inspector who reviewed the footage — and did not note the crack in his report — has been fired. (Courtesy: ARDOT)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An inspector who failed to discover a crack in the Interstate 40 bridge linking Arkansas and Tennessee that prompted the span’s closure last week has been fired, Arkansas transportation officials said Monday, May 17.

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Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lorie Tudor said the inspector was fired after drone video shot in May 2019 showed the crack on the bridge. Tudor said the crack was not noted by the inspector in his reports that fall or the following year.

“This is unacceptable,” Tudor said at a news conference. The department did not immediately name the employee and said the incident is also being referred to federal investigators.

Arkansas’ DOT on May 17 released an image and video from the drone, which showed the crack. The drone footage was taken by a consultant inspecting the bridge’s cables.

Traffic on the six-lane bridge was shut down May 11 after inspectors found a “significant fracture” in one of two 900-foot horizontal steel beams that are critical for the bridge’s structural integrity. River traffic under the span was closed May 11 but reopened May 14.

The closure has impacted a heavily used corridor and raised concerns about shipping and delivery costs. The Arkansas Trucking Association on May 14 estimated the closure would cost the trucking industry at least $2.4 million a day.

Traffic was being rerouted to Interstate 55 and the 71-year-old Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, about 3 miles south.

The Arkansas DOT on May 14 said drone footage by a consultant inspecting the bridge’s cables included an image of the beginning of the crack, as well as significant rust.

Arkansas and Tennessee authorities have not given a timeline for when the bridge will reopen. The Tennessee Department of Transportation said Monday that the I-40 bridge repair will be conducted in two phases, and both steps must be completed before the bridge can be reopened for road traffic.

May 2021 Photo
This shot, taken May 12, 2021, shows the steel beam is still partially connected. (Courtesy: ARDOT)

The first step is installing steel plates on each side of the fractured beam to provide stability for crews to permanently replace the damaged parts, TDOT said in a statement. The plates are being made and fabrication should be completed by Wednesday, May 19, TDOT said. The second phase involves removal and replacement of the damaged piece of the bridge.

Nebraska-based Kiewit Corporation was selected Monday afternoon for the bridge repair work, ARDOT spokesman Dave Parker said.

The department is not projecting a reopening date for the I-40 bridge. The department also said it will review the condition of the I-55 bridge “out of an abundance of caution.”

Tudor said all “fracture-critical” bridges that had been inspected by the fired employee will be re-inspected.

ADOT has created a website to update the public on the progress of the evaluation and eventual repair of the bridge.

By Andrew DeMillo and Adrian Sainz, The Associated Press. Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee.

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