Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tours I-40 bridge in Memphis, pushes infrastructure plan

Tennessee

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The damage on the I-40 bridge got a national close-up Thursday as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg came to Memphis to get a first-hand look.

The secretary could not offer a date when the bridge — which was the main link between Tennessee and Arkansas at Memphis, carrying nearly 40,000 vehicles a day until it closed for repairs May 11 — would be back open.

But he along with state and local officials were able to to outline the next steps in repairs.

Phase II of the bridge repair started last week. Inspectors are currently performing tests to see exactly what areas are compromised before they begin making repairs.

TDOT announced earlier today that materials to begin repairs could arrive in the Mid-South by late June. While no exact date for re-opening was announced, officials say the I-40 bridge work could last into the month of August.

Buttigieg said this visit helped him realize how crucial the I-40 bridge is.

“Safety is the heart of what’s happened at the DeSoto Bridge. Closure has been challenging and costly. I wanted to make sure to be here to emphasize that we often have a single piece of infrastructure in a single place that really influences the life of the entire country when it’s not available or diminished,” he said.

The topic of a third bridge in the Memphis area was raised, but Buttigieg said that’s not his call. He said he hopes President Biden’s infrastructure plan will help to build new bridges across the country.

Thursday morning, Buttigieg participated in a roundtable discussion at the FedEx distribution center where he learned more about the impact the closure has had on freight movement from FedEx officials. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Steve Cohen were also at the event.

Participants noted the Memphis area and Arkansas as a center of commerce and logistics, with FedEx and river, road and rail connections to the rest of the country. More than 26,000 commercial drivers a day depend on the connection between Tennessee and Arkansas at Memphis, and they are facing either long waits or long detours.

He and Cohen then toured the I-40 bridge work site.

The bridge has been closed for the last 24 days and by all accounts it could remain closed for several more weeks.

On Wednesday, we learned that the full extent of the damage may not yet be fully understood. The Tennessee Department of Transportation now acknowledges that the crack, which went unnoticed for years, may just be a scratch on the surface.

Inspectors are performing ultrasonic tests on all the welds along the main girder and other supports to make sure they haven’t been compromised.

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