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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visits Memphis to discuss impact of I-40 bridge closure

Published: Jun. 3, 2021 at 10:33 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 2:38 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited Memphis Thursday to tour the I-40 bridge over the Mississippi River, which remains closed for repairs.

Buttigieg participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by FedEx to discuss the impact of the I-40 bridge closure on the transportation industry and critical infrastructure investments.

Other roundtable participants included Congressman Steve Cohen, Senator Marsha Blackburn, acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration Stephanie Pollack, FedEx president Raj Subramanian, Arkansas Trucking Association president Shannon Samples Newton, Donna England of the Tennessee Trucking Association and Jason Higginbotham of Ozark Motor Lines Inc.

During the roundtable, Buttigieg referenced the bipartisan participants, specifically Cohen, a Democrat, and Blackburn, a Republican, saying repairs were were underway without regard to politics, “which is a reminder that such things are still possible, especially when it comes to infrastructure.”

The secretary said Memphis is “vital” to the nation and world’s transportation.

Blackburn pushed for a timeline for repairs and reopening the bridge while Cohen pushed for the passage of an infrastructure bill and advocated for a third bridge, something other lawmakers have called for in recent weeks.

Representatives of the trucking industry said each day the I-40 bridge remains closed costs them an estimated $2 million a day as they reroute freight or wait in traffic.

“It has exacerbated the driver shortage because of the loss of productivity,” said Higginbotham.

He said some drivers won’t take jobs that involve crossing the river because of the delays.

Newton said drivers’ shifts have drastically changed to ensure they can efficiently cross the I-49 and I-55 bridges multiple times in a day.

The bridge closed May 11 after inspectors discovered a major fracture in a beam beneath the bridge truss. River traffic was temporarily halted, and the bridge remains closed to vehicular traffic.

Repairs are underway with the first phase complete. It’s still unclear when the bridge will reopen.

Buttigieg also toured the bridge, speaking with Arkansas and Tennessee transportation officials and the team responsible for repairing the fractured beam.

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