MEMPHIS, Tennessee — UPDATE - 4:20 p.m.: The governors of Tennessee and Arkansas were in downtown Memphis Tuesday afternoon, updating the public on the indefinitely closed I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge impacting both their states.
The bridge's closure has growing ramifications for travel and commerce delays, and is now a federal investigation.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Gov. Bill Lee were joined by TDOT leaders and others as construction work is scheduled to begin this week to repair a major crack in a steel support beam, discovered last Tuesday.
"For me just to speculate, several months is about all I can tell you right now," TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright said, when asked about when cars and trucks could return to the I-40 bridge.
A contractor from Nebraska will lead the two part I-40 bridge repair work, beginning later this week.
The first phase will stabilize that area around the steel beam by installing 35 feet long steel plates and the second phase will replace the bridge's damaged section.
"Phase two design is also underway. Phase two is going to enable us to put equipment in, the resources in to be able to span that fracture, cut that fracture out, and replace the fracture with brand new material," Commissioner Bright added.
Gov. Lee and Gov. Hutchinson's visit also came one day after ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor announced the firing of the lead inspector who missed that bridge crack in September 2019 and September 2020 inspections.
ARDOT conceded last week the crack existed since 2019 and wasn't discovered until another inspector in charge of the bridge's cables and upper portion found it last week.
ARDOT promised to make their bridge inspections more thorough, including using more drone footage.
"We understand that in order to regain the public trust and confidence, we will need to be transparent and accountable and we are committed to doing so," Director Tudor said Monday. "We will correct this problem and become better for it."
Tuesday, Gov. Hutchinson defended Director Tudor and offered his support of her leadership.
"Director Tudor - she took quick action. She didn't make any excuses. She's been very transparent in this and I applaud her for it. I think she handled it perfectly well," Gov. Hutchinson said.
Tuesday and Wednesday, TDOT will do a follow-up review with two drones on the I-55 bridge, which is now the primary detour for traffic crossing the Mississippi River to and from Arkansas and Tennessee.
Interstate alerts also expanded further east and west to give drivers more of a heads up as they approach Memphis - and the shut down I-40 bridge - in the weeks ahead.
(TENNESSEE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE NEWS RELEASE) - Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is traveling to Memphis to assess progress on the Hernando de Soto bridge repair, meet with Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and address the need for immediate federal action on infrastructure.
“We are making swift progress on repairs to the Hernando de Soto bridge to ensure safety and a return to uninterrupted commerce,” said Gov. Lee. “While Congress ponders the definition of infrastructure, we call upon the federal government to prioritize the safety of actual roads and bridges.”
American Rescue Plan funds are expressly prohibited from being spent on road, highway or bridge infrastructure. Currently, the American Rescue Plan designates $182 million to Shelby County and $161 million to the City of Memphis. The American Jobs Plan, touted as an infrastructure plan, would spend an estimated $2 trillion with a mere 5.6% dedicated to roads and bridges.
“We will continue investing in infrastructure for the safety of our citizens and the strength of our economy,” said Gov. Lee. “I commend the State of Arkansas, the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers for their work and look forward to meaningful action out of Congress to address the condition of our roads and bridges across the country.”
I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge Actions
- Repairing bridge damages through an efficient two-phase plan
- Preventing commerce disruptions by diverting traffic to alternate routes
- Ensuring safety by monitoring congestion and alerting travelers of closures
For the latest updates regarding repairs of the Hernando de Soto bridge and alternate routes follow MyTDOT.