How inspections rated the I-40 bridge before a crack shut it down

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Both Arkansas and Tennessee officials say the I-40 bridge shut down over the Mississippi River is a sign that inspections work.

“This fracture had the potential of becoming a catastrophic event that was prevented by our staff’s diligent efforts in managing our bridge inspection program,” Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lorie Tudor said.

ARDOT shares custody of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge with Tennessee’s Department of Transportation. Under the agreement, Tennessee handles maintenance of the main part of the bridge while Arkansas handles inspections like the one that caught the massive crack Tuesday.

Most U.S. bridges get inspected every two years, but ARDOT Chief Engineer Rex Vines said the 48-year-old Hernando DeSoto bridge gets extra eyes with annual inspections.

The most recent in September of 2020 checked out, he said.

“This crack had not shown up before,” Vines said.

In fact, WREG dug through federal inspection records, which rate bridges as “good,” “fair” or “poor.”
The Arkansas side of the bridge most recently rated in “good” condition.

Tennessee officials say their inspections of their part of the bridge came back as “fair.”

“As a 50-year-old bridge that’s a pretty good evaluation,” TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges said.

But when WREG looked more closely at the data, we found the bridge got a structural evaluation of 4, meaning it “meets minimum tolerable limits.” It is just one ranking away from being considered “basically intolerable and requiring corrective action.”

“It’s just got a lot of age on it. steel Structures age different than concrete,” Degges said.

Officials cautioned, they don’t want to replace a bridge prematurely because that would be a waste of taxpayer money.

WREG has requested repair records from Tennessee and inspection reports from Arkansas.

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