Officials still are unsure when repairs to the Interstate 40 bridge will be complete, and it will not be reopened to even partial traffic until finished. Tennessee Department of Transportation Community Relations Officer Nicole Lawrence told Talk Business & Politics there have been no significant issues in repairing the fractured beam that closed the bridge in early May.
Work will continue through the end of July at a minimum, she said. Even after the repair work is complete and the bridge is re-opened there could be partial lane closures to accommodate any work relating to the bridge that needs to be done, she added.
“We don’t have an update on a timeline. We have to make sure we pass all of our inspections … It’s going to be closed until it’s done,” Lawrence said.
When the I-40 bridge, the busiest freight carrying bridge in the U.S., was shut down May 11 after a fracture was discovered in a primary support beam, the flow of goods came to a standstill. Traffic was choked on I-55 in the weeks after the closure and it led to long wait times for motorists and big trucks carrying goods.
The trucking industry has absorbed over $70 million in unanticipated costs since the closure, according to the Arkansas Trucking Association. However, the latest data on traffic congestion suggests that the average cost to the trucking industry has reduced from an estimated $2.4 million to $936,000 a day.
“We commend the Arkansas and Tennessee Departments of Transportation for acting in response to the concerns of the trucking industry and implementing measures to improve traffic flow on this major east-west shipping corridor,” said Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton. “When the bridge first closed, delays were regularly exceeding an hour. Now thanks to ARDOT’s traffic engineering, implementing strategic lane shifts, that delay is down to only 15 minutes.”
Operational cost data provided by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) indicates the average cost of operating a truck to be $71.78 an hour or $1.20 a minute.
ARDOT enacted a series of lane changes in West Memphis on June 9. The goal was to reduce merging points to reduce conflicts and improve traffic flow. “In just the two weeks since ARDOT reconfigured traffic in West Memphis, we have saved roughly $21.9 million in expenses as the estimated cost per day decreased from $2.4 million to $936,000. Trucking is still losing nearly a million dollars a day, but these improvements are proving significant to an industry that is already struggling to meet demand.”
Truck traffic has decreased only slightly from 26,500 trucks per day from West Memphis to Memphis, down to 23,500 trucks.
“Using the latest ATRI data, we estimate those 3,000 trucks that are re-routing 60 miles or more from the I-55 bridge are losing $513,000 per day in lost time and increased mileage while the cost of the 15-minute delay for the 23,500 trucks using the I-55 bridge is an estimated $423,000,” Newton said. “We are confident the ARDOT and TDOT are working with the utmost expediency to re-open the bridge so that it is safe for all traffic.”