Well, that didn’t last long. Thankfully. The Arkansas Department of Transportation announced Tuesday (May 28) before noon a decision to reopen the Interstate 540 bridge and the Highway 64 (Midland) between Fort Smith and Van Buren – less than 24 hours after announcing its closure.
One reason the bridges were closed, according to Chad Adams, regional ArDOT director, is the pressure the increased flows are placing on steel beams supporting the bridges. ArDOT officials also said flooding threatened the roadways leading to the bridges.
But the water rise was less than anticipated.
“Late last night, the U.S. Highway 64/71B (Broadway St.) bridge – known locally as the Midland Bridge – and the I-540 river bridge over the Arkansas River were closed to traffic due to anticipated high water levels impacting roadways leading to both structures. The predicted floodwaters did not rise to the level anticipated last night and after a thorough inspection of the structures, ARDOT engineers have determined they can reopen,” ArDOT noted in a statement.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers is predicting the Arkansas River in the Fort Smith area will crest Tuesday at 42.5 feet, well above the flood stage of 22 feet and above the area record of 38.1 feet. As of Tuesday at 11 a.m., the river was at 40.19 feet. The river flow at Trimble Lock & Dam in Barling was 558,072 cubic feet per second (cfs). Normal river flow is around 125,000 cfs.
Closing the four-lane bridges will have a big impact on traffic patterns into and out of Fort Smith and Van Buren. The I-540 bridge handles around 50,000 vehicles a day, and the U.S. 64 bridge sees about 22,000 vehicles a day. The smaller two-lane Highway 59 bridge that goes across the Trimble Lock & Dam in Barling handles about 8,200 vehicles a day, according to ArDOT data.