WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — Truckers are having to adjust their work schedules, plan for longer trips, and some have even refused to take a route that takes them through Memphis due to the closure of the Interstate 40 bridge linking Tennessee and Arkansas.
Trucking companies say they are losing drivers, and it’s adding to an already driver shortage in the industry.
“I have been driving since 2015, and I have never seen anything like this,” says Irene Simien, who is called the ‘Trucker Queen.”
Simien is a rare female truck driver, but what she is seeing these days she has rarely seen before.
“It’s all congested. It takes a lot of time, and we just sit and sit and sit,” said Simien.
The I-40 bridge closure has slowed down her deliveries. She showed us her computerized log that she must keep, and she can only work a certain number of hours a day.
“We have a 70-hour clock. We can only drive 11 hours a day. We have to take a break out of that,” Simien said.
During last week’s roundtable discussion with the Secretary of Transportation, the trucking associations said the costs are adding up.
“Sixty minutes of congestion or 60 miles out of route which is roughly $2 million a day that the industry is absorbing in cost as long as that bridge is out,” said Shannon Newton with the Arkansas Trucking Association.
“When that cost is added, who does that cost get passed down to? It gets passed down to our consumers, as well as our shippers,” said Donna England of the Tennessee Trucking Association.
They are asking for help getting the word out to drivers to avoid the rush hour traffic, and they want signage and live cameras to show the projected wait time to get across the bridge.
“Yesterday I sat for three and a half hours right out here at the 40-55 split going to 40,” says truck driver Ben Fortner. “That bridge being down is a nightmare.”
Truckers say their livelihood is at stake the longer it takes to reopen the bridge.
“I am hoping they have it done by the end of the summer. I am hoping,” says Fortner.
And so are a lot of people.
TDOT says it could be August before the I-40 bridge is re-opened. But the good news, the average wait time on the I-55 bridge is down from when the shutdown first started.