MEMPHIS, Tenn. — U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in Memphis for several hours on Thursday. He met with business leaders, elected officials and even truck drivers to hear first-hand the impact of the I-40 bridge closure.
After all of his scheduled events, he spoke exclusively with News Channel 3 on seeing the bridge in person.
“I was looking right down where that steel had cracked and when you’re up there looking at it you just think about the incredible amount of pressure on this physical steel plate. You realize why it’s so important to inspect, to make sure that it is safe and to make sure the right kinds of investments are happening to keep an asset like that in working order. So yeah, it’s one thing to see it in a picture or briefing. It’s another to stand there, look beneath you and have that rupture in the bridge staring you right in the face,” he said.
At a sit down round table before his tour, Buttigieg learned how the shutdown is affecting transportation including the trucking industry.
“Not only is it costing our motor carriers more money if they have to go north 100 miles or south 80 miles to cross another bridge to get through from the West to the East Coast, they are adding cost,” said Donna England with the Tennessee Transportation Association.
While he couldn’t commit on a third bridge in Memphis, saying that is up to local officials, in a one-on-one interview with WREG he did say the federal department is working to make things happen quickly with the I-40 bridge.
“To try to tear down any red tape or obstacles in things like getting the procurements approved so they can actually move on with the physical work,” said Buttigieg.
Secretary Buttigieg said he will report to the President how this bridge in Memphis is an example of the need for a renewed focus of this country’s infrastructure.
Buttigieg said he was impressed to see cooperation from officials from both parties and from both sides of the river. He’s encouraged that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will reach agreement on an infrastructure bill.
“Every legislator I’ve talked to in both parties, in both houses, they’re from somewhere and they’re all from communities where they’re hearing about this like right here in Memphis, where it’s obviously an urgent issue every day, but especially since May 11th. So I think the real chance for common ground comes when you take it out of the headlines and out of the party politics and just back to ground truth and I mean literally a very big example of what’s at stake right here over our shoulder,” he said.
Officials do not know when the bridge will be open, but Phase II of the repair started last week. Inspectors are currently performing tests to see exactly what areas are compromised before they begin making repairs.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation said the materials needed for the repair could arrive in late June with repairs going into the month of August.