This sort of crack could have led to a catastrophic failure.
35,000 vehicles travel over the Mississippi River on Interstate 40 between Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas every day. At any point, this cracked truss could have given way, leading to what the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s director appropriately called a “catastrophic event”. The crack itself is in the middle of the ‘M’ arches of the bridge, on one of the two outer box beams.
After discovering the damage during an inspection this week, both states’ transportation department quickly made the decision to close the road indefinitely. In recapping what happened to the Hernando de Soto Bridge, officials said, “it’s plausible that this [closure] can be months rather than weeks.” In addition to diverting road traffic away from the bridge, barge traffic on the river was also shut down while engineers assess the situation. Barges will not be able to move until crews determine the bridge can stand on its own.
For the time being, traffic will have to detour south through Memphis, then head over the Harahan bridge that carries Interstate 55. While there is fortunately another nearby Interstate, there are no other river crossings within 60 miles of Memphis. Transportation departments are also inspecting that bridge as a precaution, to ensure it can handle the extra traffic while I-40 remains shut down. Traffic control crews will man both sides of the I-55 bridge 24 hours a day, to quickly clear any accidents or broken down vehicles and keep vehicles moving.
Since the Hernando de Soto bridge carries traffic between Arkansas and Tennessee, both states’ transportation departments will split the repair costs. Tennessee DOT commissioner Clay Bright told Commercial Appeal, “…Safety is number one for us, but we absolutely want to get the bridge open as soon as possible. But we are not going to shoot from the hip here. We want to have the best fix, long-term, to get the bridge back open.”