Repairs to the fractured Interstate 40 bridge connecting West Memphis to Memphis are progressing rapidly and officials with the Arkansas Department of Transportation and the Tennessee Department of Transportation are confident the bridge will re-open by late July or early August.
ArDOT public information officer Dave Parker told Talk Business & Politics that phase one of the work is complete and repair crews are now in phase two of the project which includes inspections.
The initial fracture spot on a primary support beam has been repaired and there have been 500 “weld spots” performed by workers. Each spot had to be inspected and about 10 spots need additional work, Parker said.
“They didn’t know what they were going to find … out of 500 weld spots they only found 10 that need more work so that’s good,” Parker said. “They have to inspect everything before the bridge can be opened.”
Pieces for these more finite repairs will have to be fabricated and that could take time, and then those repairs will have to be inspected once they are completed, he said.
The I-40 bridge, the busiest freight carrying bridge in the U.S., was shut down May 11 after the fracture was discovered. The national flow of goods from north to south and from east to west came to a standstill. Despite efforts to re-route traffic onto the I-55 bridge, the economic consequences have been devastating to West Memphis, the surrounding communities and the trucking industry.
West Memphis officials estimate the city’s sales tax collections have dropped by 25% since the closure, and re-routed traffic has damaged and choked off streets throughout the largest city in Crittenden County.
Initially, the trucking industry estimated it was losing about $2.4 million per day, but changes made last month to improve traffic flow and delay times on the I-55 bridge reduced that estimate to $900,000 per day.
Despite the changes, problems remain. A Talk Business & Politics reporter crossed the bridge Wednesday afternoon and traffic remained at a standstill on I-55 from Marion through West Memphis and on into Memphis, a distance of more than nine miles.