MEMPHIS, Tenn. — An economist says the Interstate 40 bridge shutdown in Memphis could have an impact that reaches far beyond the city.
The slowdown could potentially lead to increase costs for every distributor and company in America.
“It’s a potential disaster,” said John Gnuschke, a retired economist formerly with University of Memphis. “There is going to be a delay in goods and services across the country, and it’s all going to be because of this bridge.”
The I-40 bridge, officially called the Hernando DeSoto Bridge, carries nearly 50,000 vehicles a day but was closed Tuesday afternoon afternoon after an inspector found a large crack in a steel beam. Traffic was immediately halted, both for trucks and cars on the bridge, and barges in the river below.
“I think it shows the infrastructure in America is very, very important,” Gnuschke said. “It is important to commerce, it’s important to the public and it’s important to delivering goods on time and in a cost-efficient manner. And so any of those things impact Fed Ex, Amazon, UPS and all of the other distribution networks that work out of Memphis.”
Transportation companies like Memphis-based FedEx, which has its World Hub at the Memphis airport, the world’s busiest cargo airport, have to pivot.
The shipping company said in a statement: “FedEx is closely monitoring the situation with the Hernando de Soto Bridge closure, and we are implementing contingency plans to minimize any impact on service.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, which is responsible for the waterways under the I-40 bridge, says there is an impact on the river, too. They have closed the waterways a half a mile south of the bridge and a half a mile north.
Sixteen vessels and 229 barges sit waiting for things to open back up. The things they are transporting will be delayed getting to their destination.
“The interstate commerce on the river is important. We are going as fast as we can, but I just don’t know the time frame,” says Paul Degges, TDOT Chief Engineer.
One crack shows the vulnerability of something we sometimes take for granted. Only one other bridge in Memphis, which carries Interstate 55, now connects Tennessee and Arkansas across the Mississippi River.
“The real threat now is what happens if an accident occurs on the south bridge, where no goods can move across the river,” Gnuschke said.