I-40 span over Mississippi River shut after crack found

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (AP) — The Interstate 40 bridge linking Arkansas and Tennessee was shut down Tuesday afternoon after authorities said they found a crack in the span.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation tweeted that it found the crack during a routine inspection of the bridge over the Mississippi River into Memphis, Tennessee. The department said it was working with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to ensure the bridge is safe before reopening.

Arkansas Department of Transportation spokesman Dave Parker said the bridge would be closed at least through Tuesday night. The Tennessee Department of Transportation said the crack was found in the bottom side of the bridge truss.

Drones were being used to take a closer look at the crack, Parker said.

Traffic was backed up for miles in both directions because of the closure and was being rerouted to the 71-year-old Memphis & Arkansas Bridge that carries Interstate 55 into Memphis, about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) south of the I-40 span. River traffic was also shut down until further notice, the Tennessee Department of Transportation said.

In an inspection for the 2020 National Bridge Inventory report, the Federal Highway Administration said the 1.8-mile (2.9-kilometer) bridge checked out in fair condition overall, with all primary structure elements sound and only some minor cracks and chips in the overall structure. Its structural evaluation checked out “somewhat better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.”

However, height and width clearances for oversize vehicles were “basically intolerable requiring high priority of corrective action,” the inspectors found. Tennessee recommended “bridge deck replacement with only incidental widening.”

The bridge carried a 2020 average of 35,000 vehicles a day across the wide Mississippi, 29% of them trucks, according to the report. Its traffic volume was expected to increase to 56,000 vehicles per day by 2040.