You may recall a couple of weeks ago on May 11 we reported that the Hernando de Soto bridge connecting Arkansas to Tennessee across the Mississippi river on I-40 was closed in an emergency fashion when a structural crack had been discovered in one of the bridge’s beams. You may also recall that the public information officer for ADOT claimed the stoppage could last “as little as an hour or as long as a week.” We are now well over a week into the bridge’s closure, and Memphis traffic remains a total clusterfuck. The Associated Press has recently uncovered evidence that the cracked beam was visibly cracked as far back as 2016.
Over 37,000 cars, trucks, and tractor trailers traverse this bridge on an average day. According to a period photograph from a kayaker, tens of millions of drivers have been driving over a cracked bridge for years with absolutely no knowledge of it. The beam in 2016 was certainly a fracture rather than an outright crack, but it is critical for the bridge’s structural integrity.
To make matters worse, the I-55 bridge currently being used to re-route cars and trucks across the river is 71 years old. Engineers are currently inspecting the bridge to make sure it can handle the heavier flow of traffic it is now subjected to. There really isn’t another option if it proves to not be up to the task, as the next nearest bridge is seventy miles downriver in Helena, Arkansa.
Barry W. Moore, 64, reported the existence of his photograph to the Associated Press this week after sending it to Arkansas and Tennessee departments of transportation and the local evening news. The picture was snapped during a kayaking trip with friends. As soon as Moore heard about the crack, he went back to the photos from that trip saved on his computer and was blown away to see the crack in question. The AP had its photo editor inspect the metadata for the picture and confirmed that it was captured on August 6, of 2016.
A spokesman for the Arkansas DOT claims the bridge is inspected at least once a year, but did not offer any evidence to refute or confirm Moore’s photograph. While the inspection is typically done with accompanying drone video, the department couldn’t access any of its videos from before 2019. Earlier this week Arkansas fired the bridge inspector who missed the crack in consecutive 2019 and 2020 inspections, and did take an opportunity to admit that the crack was visible in the 2019 video. Is there only one person responsible for all the bridges in Arkansas, or does this smell like a scapegoat job to you, too?
How fucked is our infrastructure? Not only is it cracking, but inspectors hired specifically to find cracks can just totally ignore them for at least five years. Well done, government. You’re doing a great job of instilling trust in yourself among the common folk.