How bad was the Memphis bridge crack? We asked a civil engineer

I-40 bridge

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The discovery of a cracked bridge beam shut down traffic and cost an inspector his job after ARDOT says he failed to notice the break.

We wanted to know just how bad that crack was when it was discovered.

Dr. Andrew Assadollahi, Department Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Christian Brothers University, believes the problem could’ve become very bad and explained how this one fracture has a ripple effect.

He said closing the bridge was 100% the responsible and correct thing to do after this fracture was found. 

“Based on what I’ve seen of the photos while this member of the bridge is definitely an important member, it doesn’t seem to be one of the main, load carrying girders of the entire bridge. But it’s still a very important member,” Assadollahi said.

He said the reason why is because the loads on the bridge, like traffic or wind, are transmitted through structural members, then down to the foundation. 

“Anytime you have a member that has fractured or failed like this member has, the loads acting on the structure have to take a new path,” he said. “So if other members become over stressed then eventually that could lead to a major, major problem. So the decision to shut down the bridge when they did and to keep it shut down was definitely the right call, definitely.”

Assadollahi said he knows it can be frustrating to a lot of people when the engineers say, “We don’t know how long this is going to take.” But their job is to keep people safe. 

“That is their main priority. Using mathematics and science and physics to ensure that they’re upholding the safety, health and welfare of the general public so I trust their judgments on executing that,” he said.

He also said recent cold weather we had might’ve also made that fracture worse. 

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