Recent accident brings calls for new MS River bridge - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Recent accident brings calls for new MS River bridge

Two people died in wreck on the I-55 bridge going into Memphis.

The bridge was closed for more than six hours and the traffic on the bridge may have slowed down emergency response time.

An accident on any bridge is an added challenge for emergency responders: there's one way in and one way out, but traffic engineers are working to get help to you as fast as possible.

Witnesses to the deadly crash on the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge are angry about the emergency response. "Horrible, awful. What really makes me feel mad is that the lady was still alive and it took so long to get emergency assistance here," said Carol Beckham, a victim of the crash. In fact, Action News 5's cameras caught an ambulance stuck in traffic. "I don't know what the procedure is but if it was my family member I wouldn't want that," said witness Fred Worden.

There are many changes in the works that could help speed up bridge access like more cameras. "The sooner you can get attention to an accident, the sooner it can be cleared, the sooner traffic can get back to normal flow," said Pamela Marshall with The Tennessee Department of Transportation. Marshall says there are three traffic message boards to help detour drivers and clear the way for responders, but that means drivers must pay attention. "We will be making more of an effort to get people to use that as a way to find out exactly what they can anticipate," said Marshall. She says there's no room for the city to expand roadways anymore, so engineers must come up with smarter and more efficient ways to pick up the flow. "We are currently in the public hearing phase for a third Mississippi bridge crossing and today is a perfect example for one of the reasons that that's needed."

Engineers say the proposed third bridge would also offset a homeland security risk.

Memphis City Engineer Wayne Gaskins says there are few major metropolitan areas that have only two river crossings.

The current Memphis-Arkansas Bridge is not built to seismic standards.

Gaskins says having an alternate route is essential not only to Memphis, but to the nation. "If something, God forbid, happened to the I-55 Bridge and adjacent rail crossing that could shut down vehicular movement, rail movement and barge movement along the Mississippi River," said Gaskins.

Right now there are 13 possible locations under consideration and the bridge would handle rail and vehicles.

It could be 15 years before the proposed bridge is built. T-DOT is trying to speed up that process. They still have public hearings, more planning, funding and then construction.

No date is set for the next round of public hearings.

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The wreckage was shocking: A Honda Civic was crushed beyond recognition Monday afternoon on I-55. The two women inside were killed. Carol Beckham was also involved in the accident.

"I could hear crashing. A car started spinning. I started getting hit," she said. "I got hit from all sides. It spun my van around."

Beckham got out of her van to find one of the women inside the Civic still breathing.

"When I walked past the black car the lady in the passenger seat was still alive," she said. "She was still sitting and moving. I couldn't see the person in the driver's seat."

Witnesses claim the bodies of the two women laid on the pavement for hours.

"I don't know what the procedure is," said witness Fred Worden, "but if it was my family member I wouldn't want that."

Carol Beckham said all she remembers is a tangle of cars then the powerful impact of a Penske truck as it crushed the Civic. She described the crash "horrible, awful. What really makes me feel made is that the lady was still alive and it took so long to get emergency assistance here," she said.

The crash caused a back up along I-55 that was miles long. It's under investigation.

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