Evidence of damage on I-40 Memphis bridge found two years before shutdown; TDOT works on interim fix

I-40 bridge

A photo from ARDOT shows the crack on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A drone video taken by an inspector in May 2019 shows evidence of damage in the area where a crack was discovered on an I-40 bridge support Tuesday, the Arkansas Department of Transportation confirmed Friday.

That discovery shut down traffic on a major interstate connecting Tennessee and Arkansas this week.

ARDOT is now investigating to see if the damage was noted in a September 2019 inspection report and what action might have been taken.

The state’s announcement may lend credence to photos from a Memphis man that have circulated on social media, purporting to show a visible crack in the same area of the bridge. David Manasco has said he took the photos July 31, 2019 during a riverboat cruise. Officials have not verified that or addressed his photos.

David Manasco said photos he took in July 2019 show a visible crack in the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

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 earlier this week.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation said Friday that its design team is looking at an interim repair using steel rods over the damaged section that would allow time for a new bridge component to be fabricated to replace the bridge’s damaged 37-foot-long section.

TDOT said there is no evidence the bridge is continuing to deteriorate. The agency said it is working with the University of Memphis “to see what could be gained from some of their research activities on the bridge that might have captured some information regarding the fracture.”

The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday morning reopened the Lower Mississippi River to vessel traffic. Traffic had been halted at Memphis, causing a backup of barges on the river.

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