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Work Underway on Memphis Bridge

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

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Last week, officials from the Tennessee Department of Transportation announced that repairs to a fractured steel support beam on the I-40 Hernando de Soto bridge were underway.

The crack—located on the bottom side of the bridge truss—was discovered on May 11 during a routine bridge inspection. However, since the discovery, investigators have revealed from previous inspections and drone footage that the crack originates as far back as 2019.

Incident Timeline

Following the afternoon inspection carried out by a contractor from Michael Baker International, both the TDOT, Arkansas Department of Transportation and local law enforcement shut down all associated road and water traffic while the damages were further analyzed.

According to reports, the structure carries more than 35,000 vehicles a day. While closed, traffic has been diverted to the I-55 bridge three miles away, which is noted to carry about 40,000 travelers per day. The Arkansas Trucking Association estimates a cost of $2.4 million daily to the trucking industry for each day the bridge is closed, although the waterway closure also had its negative effects.

Opened three days later by the Coast Guard, the waterway restrictions reportedly created a backup of 62 tugboats carrying 1,058 barges.

“There is no alternate route to the Mississippi River,” said Thomas Goldsby, the Haslam chair of logistics and co-faculty director of the Global Supply Chain Institute at the University of Tennessee's Haslam College of Business. “And so if that had been an extended shutdown, that was going to cause some very severe problems on a transportation mode that frankly, most people don't think that much about.”

On the same day that waterway restrictions had been lifted, investigators also discovered earlier evidence of damage on the bridge and were digging into previous reports and if any actions were taken. Upon taking a deeper dive, ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor said during a press conference that the inspection team leader who reviewed the original inspections of the bridge for both years had failed to note the fracture both times.

“From our investigation we have determined that the same employee who conducted the inspection in both 2019 and 2020 failed to carry out his responsibilities correctly,” Tudor said. “This is unacceptable and this employee has been terminated as of this morning.”

However, Tudor also added that the missed fracture from the previous inspections was not the fault of Michael Baker International, which conducted the inspections for the agency, and instead blamed a failure in ARDOT’s process. The Department is currently taking steps to correct this, which will include more checks and balances.

All bridges that were inspected by the fired employee have also been scheduled for reinspections.

Bridge History, Fracture and Rehab Plans

Built in 1973 by Bethlehem Steel Co. of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the bridge is a two-span steel through arch bridge that connects Memphis, Tennessee, with Critterden County, Arkansas. The two steel arch spans stretch 900 feet and include five continuous steel box girder spans.

In 1992, the structure was retrofitted to withstand potential earthquake activity along the New Madrid Fault Zone. In 2013, 2015 and 2017, engineering consulting group, Michael Baker International (Pittsburgh), performed federally required inspections on the bridge, most notably because of the complexity of the bridge.

Located just off the midpoint of the mid-span is where the fracture was been located, within the elements of a steal box beam beneath the bridge deck. The arch truss is connected to box beams, meaning that the crack affects all of the box beam's outboard plate, all of its top plate and 20% of its bottom plate.

On May 17, TDOT announced the hiring of Kiewit Infrastructure Group as the contractor for the repairs. Conducted in two phases, the first phase will involve the installation of steel plates on each side of the fractured member. Work completed on May 19 and was conducted in 24-hour shifts. According to reports, the installation of steel plates will strengthen the damaged steel plates providing stability needed for crews to install equipment for the permanent replacement of the damaged components and continue bridge inspections.

The plates weigh roughly 18,000 pounds. The design of the plates and plans were provided to Stupp Bridge Company in Bowling Green, Kentucky for fabrication.

Currently underway, phase two of the project involves crafting the designs, which will later receive input from Kiewit, on the removal and replacement of the damaged piece in order to reopen traffic. At this time, transportation officials say it could be a month or two until the bridge is reopened but can’t confirm that information.

For the most up-to-date information regarding the project and traffic changes, ARDOT has created a public information page, here.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Cracks; Department of Transportation (DOT); Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Health and safety; Infrastructure; Inspection; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Transportation

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