Coast Guard reopens Mississippi River to vessel traffic after bridge crack halts barges

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday lifted the waterway restriction on part of the Lower Mississippi River after a crack was discovered on the I-40 bridge this week.

“Based on information provided to us by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard has determined that transit under the I-40 bridge is safe for maritime traffic,” said Coast Guard Capt. Ryan Rhodes, Captain of the Port of Memphis. “We appreciate the cooperative efforts of both the Tennessee and Arkansas Departments of Transportation, as well as maritime port partners, to ensure the safety of our waterway.”

As of Friday, there were 62 vessels with 1,058 barges in the queue waiting to travel under the Bridge.

Dan Basse is the president of AgResource Company, an agricultural research and advisory firm. WREG talked to him from his Chicago office.

“This is a smiley, happy day. This is a day where U.S. farmers can look southward to the Mississippi and say, ‘We’re back in business,'” Basse said. “The Mississippi is the main artery of ag exports for the United States. So as you look at farmers across the Midwest, we see it as that thoroughfare to get ag goods into the world.”

He said had it lasted longer than a week ultimately there would be some serious blows to farmers and the U.S. economy

“Well the lesson is that infrastructure is highly important,” Basse said. “That our logistical system needs to be running like a clock. If it doesn’t there’s big implications for everyone. “

He also believes there needs more investment in river systems and ports as the U.S. supplies more goods to other parts of the world. 

As for when the bridge will reopen to vehicle traffic, experts say it could be a while. They are currently using x-ray technology to figure out if there are more cracks in other parts of the bridge.

If not, the fix should only take a few days, said civil engineering University of Memphis professor Dr. Adel Abdelnaby.

But if there are more hints of danger, they’d have to replace a much bigger part of the bridge. That could take six months to a year, he said.

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