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VOL. 45 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 14, 2021

Inspector who failed to catch interstate bridge crack fired

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An inspector who failed to discover a crack in the Interstate 40 bridge linking Arkansas and Tennessee that prompted the span's closure has been fired, Arkansas transportation officials said Monday.

Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lorie Tudor said the inspector was fired after drone video showed the crack o n the bridge spanning the Mississippi River in May 2019. Tudor said the crack was not noted by the inspector in his reports that fall or the following year.

"This is unacceptable," Tudor said at a news conference. The department did not immediately name the employee and said the incident is also being referred to federal investigators.

Arkansas' DOT on Monday released an image and video from the drone, which showed the crack. The drone footage was taken by a consultant inspecting the bridge's cables.

Traffic on the six-lane bridge was shut down last Tuesday after inspectors found a "significant fracture" in one of two 900-foot (274-meter) horizontal steel beams that are critical for the bridge's integrity. River traffic under the span was closed Tuesday but reopened on Friday.

The closure has impacted a heavily used corridor and raised concerns about shipping and delivery costs. The Arkansas Trucking Association on Friday estimated the closure would cost the trucking industry at least $2.4 million a day.

Traffic was being rerouted to Interstate 55 and the 71-year-old Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) south.

Arkansas and Tennessee authorities have not given a timeline for when the bridge will reopen. The Tennessee Department of Transportation said Monday that the I-40  bridge repair will be conducted in two phases, and both steps must be completed before the bridge can be reopened for road traffic.

The first step is installing steel plates on each side of the fractured beam to provide stability for crews to permanently replace the damaged parts, TDOT said in a statement. The plates are being made and fabrication should be completed by Wednesday, TDOT said. The second phase involves removal and replacement of the damaged piece of the bridge.

TDOT said it intends to select a contractor Monday afternoon for the first phase of the repair.

The department is not projecting a reopening date for the I-40 bridge. The department also said it will review the condition of the I-55 bridge "out of an abundance of caution."

Tudor said all "fracture critical" bridges that had been inspected by the fired employee will be re-inspected.

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Sainz reported from Memphis, Tenn.

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