MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As repairs continue on the I-40 Hernando Desoto Bridge, two Memphis state representatives called on state and federal leaders to set a goal of building a new one in Shelby County.
During a news conference Wednesday, Joe Towns, Jr. and Dwayne Thompson, both Democratic members of the Tennessee House transportation committee, said now is the time to make changes and set aside partisan feelings to make a difference in Memphis.
“The fact of it is, perfect time for the country as we talk about infrastructure for us to get another bridge. We need another bridge. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, we just simply need another bridge,” said Towns.
As a city, Memphis is transportation hub, Thompson added. He pointed to the fact the some of the biggest employers in the Bluff City deal with transportaion both in the air, along the Mississippi River and of course along Mid-South roads.
“When we have one bridge that shutting off a good portion or commerce in the city then we really need to look at something like this,” he said.
After several days of working 24-hour shifts, TDOT crews have finished phase one of the repairs to a cracked section of the bridge. Now they are planning phase two before it can reopen.
The I-55 bridge, currently the only crossing between Tennessee and Arkansas at Memphis, is now averaging an increased load of 67,000 vehicles per day, TDOT said. The I-40 bridge previously carried nearly 40,000 vehicles a day.
Both lawmakers said moving forward they would like to get the state of Tennessee to commit to building a new bridge. They specifically called out Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, saying he should put aside partisan feelings and work to make a difference in Tennessee.
The building of a new bridge won’t be an overnight task, they said, noting that they would have to get leaders from Tennessee, Arkansas and from the federal government on board.
Last week, Arkansas Democratic officials including West Memphis Mayor Marco McClendon made similar calls for a third bridge, and for infrastructure funding to repair the connection over the Mississippi River.
They also suggested changes to the inspection process when it comes to the bridges over the Mississippi River. Currently, each bridge is inspected every two years. Towns said that should be changed to every year with both states sending in inspectors to keep eyes on the bridges.