The Hernando de Soto Bridge on Interstate 40 will remain closed for no less than six weeks, but could be shut down for as many as two months, according to state officials.
“It will be a number of weeks at least until we can have a repair in place, probably six to eight weeks minimum,” Paul Degges, Tennessee Department of Transportation chief engineer, told CNN. “Hopefully, we can pull a rabbit out of a hat sooner, but public safety is most important. There are lots of moving parts to look at.”
Experts are now working on a repair strategy and hope to soon have an estimated timeline for repair. Engineers hope to implement a temporary repair that will allow at least some vehicle traffic to use the bridge while contractors work to create a long-term fix. Officials also say they hope to reopen the river to barge traffic “in the next day or so.”
“We are looking at (two or three) different scenarios of what different types of repairs could be done to get traffic back up and then from there to move on to a permanent repair,” Degges said.
While it is unclear exactly when the crack appeared, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee says that the discovery of the crack and the bridge closure that followed proves that their current “process worked.”
“We have regular inspection process between Arkansas and Tennessee for that particular bridge and it was that inspection process that revealed that crack before it became an incident,” Lee said to CNN.
The average daily traffic crossing the bridge totals up to about 45,000 vehicles, with 25% of that being truck traffic. Currently, drivers are being routed about three miles south to Interstate 55, where another bridge crosses the Mississippi River. According to truckers and news crews who have been through the area since the I-40 bridge closure, traffic along this detour route has been brutal, and could even affect freight hauling across the country.
The 72-year-old Memphis-Arkansas bridge on I-55, the current detour, is considerably older than the 48-year-old Hernando de Soto Bridge, but experts say a serious crack in a bridge like this is rare, and could be attributed to a welding error during the bridge’s construction back in the early 70s.
“This kind of fracture is rare,” Lewis said, “but it goes to show how we have a lot of bridges that are old and it’s going to take a lot of funding and resources to bring them up to a state of good repair.”
One thing is for sure, definitely plan ahead before heading through the area for the next few weeks.
Memphis — plan ahead. Here are some alternative ways to get around town while the I-40 bridge is closed. pic.twitter.com/ILQpwmypJl— City of Memphis (@CityOfMemphis) May 12, 2021