An inspector who apparently failed to notice the crack forming along the Interstate 40 bridge between Arkansas and Tennessee has been fired, officials say.
The inspector was fired on Monday, May 17th after drone footage shows the crack was present both in May of 2019 and in 2020, but was not noted in reports by the inspector. Footage from the drone was recorded by a consultant inspecting the bridge cables, and was released on Monday.
“This is unacceptable,” said Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lorie Tudor to ABC 7 News.
ADOT has not yet named the employee fired in the incident, as the situation is being referred to federal investigators.
The “significant fracture” was discovered last week, and traffic on and below the bridge was shut down on Tuesday, May 11th. Although river traffic below the bridge has been reopened, the closure has already led to some serious traffic and supply chain problems. On Friday, the Arkansas Trucking Association even estimated that the closure would cost the trucking industry approximately $2.4M a day.
According to the American Transportation Research Institute, the cost of operating a semi truck is around $71.78 an hour, or $1.20 a minute. Because of the I-40 bridge closure and subsequent increase in traffic along the remaining alternate routes, what used to be a quick, easy drive is turning into a major journey for truckers looking to get across the Mississippi River.
“Using GPS data, we can discern that a previous 8-minute drive is now averaging 84 minutes. This additional transit time at $1.20 a minute for 26,500 trucks is costing the trucking industry more than $2.4 million each day that the bridge is closed,” Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton said.
Currently, the main reroute for traffic looking to use the I-40 bridge is the Interstate 55 Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, a 71-year-old bridge that is markedly older than the 48-year-old I-40 bridge.
As of Tuesday, May 18th, there is still no official timeline for the reopening of the crucial bridge, though experts have estimated repairs will take “months rather than weeks.”
The repairs are expected to take place in two phases: The first involves the installation of steel plates on each side of the fracture beam to provide stability for crews as they work to replace the damaged parts. These reinforcement beams are currently being fabricated and are expected to be completed on Wednesday.
The second phase of repair involves the removal and replacement of the damaged part of the bridge. Only then will the repairs be complete and the bridge reopened.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has chosen the Kiewit Corporation to complete repairs on the bridge. The Omaha, Nebraska company is currently discussing repairs and will complete an evaluation of the bridge via drone sometime this week.
“We understand that in order to regain the public’s trust and confidence, we need to be transparent and accountable and we are committed to doing so,” Tudor said in a statement. “We will correct this problem and become better for it.”
Officials also say that the structural integrity of the I-55 bridge, the current detour for the duration of the I-40 bridge closure, will be reviewed “out of an abundance of caution.” Tudor has also assured that any bridges inspected by the fired inspector will be reevaluated.