I-40 bridge between Arkansas, Tennessee remains closed until further notice

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I 40 Bridge
Transportation officers and police block an Interstate 40 onramp to the bridge over the Mississippi River near downtown Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. The Arkansas Department of Transportation tweeted on Tuesday that it found a crack during a routine inspection of the bridge. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Interstate 40 bridge linking Arkansas and Tennessee remained closed Wednesday after inspectors found a crack in the span, forcing thousands of trucks and cars to detour and shutting down shipping on the Mississippi River.

The bridge into Memphis was shut down Tuesday afternoon after the crack was discovered during a routine inspection. Both states’ transportation agencies said they would make sure the 48-year-old, 1.8-mile bridge is safe before reopening.

Traffic was being rerouted to Interstate 55 and the 71-year-old Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, about 3 miles south. River traffic was also shut down in the Memphis area until further notice, the Tennessee Department of Transportation said.

Surveillance cameras showed road traffic to be moving steadily on the I-55 bridge Wednesday morning.

“It’s fortunate that routine inspection averted a potential disaster, but the state of our crumbling infrastructure is deeply troubling,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat whose district includes Memphis.

Cohen said he would work in a bipartisan manner with the congressional delegations from Arkansas and Tennessee to make sure I-40 bridge improvements are included in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposals.

In an inspection for the 2020 National Bridge Inventory report, the Federal Highway Administration said the I-40 bridge checked out in “fair” condition overall, with all primary structure elements sound and only some minor cracks and chips in the overall structure. Its structural evaluation checked out “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.”

However, height and width clearances for oversize vehicles were “basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action,” the inspectors found. Tennessee recommended “bridge deck replacement with only incidental widening.”

The bridge, which opened in 1973, carried a 2020 average of 35,000 vehicles a day across the river, 29% of them trucks, according to the report. Its traffic volume was expected to increase to 56,000 vehicles per day by 2040.

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