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Phase one of I-40 bridge repair complete

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 10:04 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Exactly two weeks after authorities shut down the I-40 bridge for emergency repairs, phase one of the repair process is done.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) released pictures showing fabricated steel plates bolted to each side of the fractured beam. Contractors with Kiewit Infrastructure Group worked 24-hour shifts to make it happen.

Since May 11 when the bridge closed, cars and trucks have been detoured to the I-55 bridge. Traffic at Crump and Florida in downtown Memphis was slow going during Tuesday night’s rush hour. But drivers were surprisingly patient, even those who have to cross the “old bridge” every day.

“If the traffic’s moving well, it normally takes me about 14 minutes to get to work,” Samuel Sullivan told WMC Action News 5 about his daily commute from West Memphis, Arkansas to Memphis. “And if traffic’s not moving well, it can take 30 minutes to an hour.”

“I’m doing good,” said Memphis truck driver Reginald Johnson. “I go across the bridge twice a day, every day.”

The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT), responsible for inspecting the bridge, fired one inspector for missing the damage in a 2020 inspection report.

After two citizens revealed they had 2019 photographs of the bridge showing the crack, ARDOT confirmed it has 2019 drone video that also shows the crack. But the agency, after searching through all of its photos, could not confirm the accuracy of a kayaker’s 2016 photos that appear to show the crack. ARDOT did not use drones in 2016.

River traffic resumed under the Hernando DeSoto Bridge May 14, but vehicle traffic can’t get back on the bridge until after phase two of repairs is completed. TDOT says those design plans are being finalized. The fractured beam will ultimately be removed and replaced. There is no word from TDOT how long it’s going to take.

For motorists like Johnson, getting around town when only one bridge in town works is a challenge they’ve accepted.

“I know the little short cuts out of West Memphis,” he said, “So, it’s like 15 minutes for me. I do what I got to do to make it out of here.”

TDOT’s almost finished with its own inspection of the I-55 bridge, at the request of ARDOT. TDOT spokesperson Nichole Lawrence says a final report may be completed this week.

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