The Hernando de Soto Bridge is a through arch bridge connecting West Memphis, Arkansas to Memphis, Tennessee across the Mississippi river on I-40. The 9,432 foot long bridge is, as you can imagine, one of the busier bridges in the region. Over 37,000 cars, trucks, and tractor trailers cross the bridge every day, but that’s been put to a halt. On Tuesday an Arkansas Department of Transportation inspection of the bridge uncovered a structural crack in the bridge around 2 p.m., and all lanes of the bridge were subsequently closed.
Updated Wednesday, May 12 2021 5:45 EDT: The bridge remains closed in both directions on Wednesday, and as you can see in the images tweeted by Arkansas DOT, there’s a really good reason why. One of the beams of the bridge has completely sheared in two. There is as of yet no ETA for the bridge’s repair, but it doesn’t look like the work of a moment.
According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the public information officer for ADOT confirmed the existence of the crack, and claimed the stoppage could last “as little as an hour or as long as a week” with no defined re-opening procedure. He was also not able to provide an idea of how often such structural cracks are discovered on major interstate bridges.
A cursory check of idrivearkansas.com shows that I-40 is indeed closed, and the reroute recommended on I-55 is severely backed up due to the massive influx of traffic. I imagine things will get significantly worse as morning and afternoon commutes continue to get backed up.
The bridge itself is 47 years old, though it is still known as ‘the new bridge’ to Memphians, because it was built more recently than the cantilevered Memphis-Arkansas Memorial Bridge, which carries I-55 across the Mississippi. The MAMB was installed way back in 1949.
My heart goes out to all the people still stuck in traffic dealing with our nation’s crumbling garbage infrastructure. Long-haul truckers still wide awake, guard their pathways, for Jesus’ sake. I really do hope this bridge is fixed in quick order and nobody has to deal with long term re-routes and shutdowns on one of America’s busiest routes. I-40 connects all the way from Barstow, California to Wilmington, North Carolina!
H/T @john_osborn on Twitter