Editor's note: This story was updated August 6, 2021.
Closed since May 11, the eastbound lanes of the Hernando de Soto Bridge between Memphis and Arkansas over the Mississippi River reopened July 31.
The westbound lanes reopened August 2, several days ahead of schedule.
The major crossing for drivers on Interstate 40 was closed May 11 after a crack was found on a steel beam during a routine inspection. Inspectors immediately called 911 to close the bridge between Memphis, Tennessee, and West Memphis, Arkansas.
The closure has led to traffic delays, as about 50,000 motorists use the bridge each day and were being rerouted to the I-55 bridge over the Mississippi River. The Arkansas Trucking Association estimated the closure was costing the trucking industry $2.4 million a day and has been leading to further shipment delays of goods and materials.
During the course of the repairs, it was determined that additional areas on the bridge needed reinforcement, according to the Arkansas Department of Transportation. Seventeen steel plates were fabricated and installed after analysis of a weld inspection report indicated other areas of concern. Crews for the contractor for the repair project, Kiewit Infrastructure Group, worked around the clock on the project, ARDOT said.
The plate installations involved removing the lateral bracing, modifying the gusset connection plate and then reinstalling the lateral bracing.
The initial fracture was found just off the midpoint of the 900-foot-long mid-span on the unique steel-tied arch de Soto Bridge. The entire structure is 3.3 miles long, with 164 spans, 160 piers and 10 abutments, according to the Tennessee DOT. The channel spans consist of five steel-box girder spans and two steel-tied arch truss spans.
The crack was discovered within the elements of a steel box beam beneath the bridge deck.
Tennessee and Arkansas share responsibility for the de Soto Bridge, with ARDOT in charge of inspections and TDOT in charge of maintenance and repairs. The agencies split the costs.
ARDOT fired an inspector accused of missing the critical fracture during the bridge’s previous inspections in 2019 and 2020.