MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Transportation officials on Friday sped up their plans to reopen the Interstate 40 bridge linking Arkansas and Tennessee that was closed after a crack was discovered in the span.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation said the eastbound lanes of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge over the Mississippi River will reopen to limited traffic on Saturday night, moving up their original plan to partially reopen the bridge on Monday morning.
“The contractor is ahead of schedule and the eastbound lanes will now reopen tomorrow night!” the department said in a statement posted on its website Friday afternoon.
The department said it still planned to reopen the bridge’s westbound lanes Aug. 6, though it said that could also get moved up. The opening schedule is barring any complications, the department said.
The I-40 bridge was shut down May 11 after inspectors found a crack in one of two 900-foot (275-meter) horizontal steel beams critical for the bridge’s structural integrity. Road traffic had been diverted to the nearby Interstate 55 bridge during the I-40 bridge’s repairs.
An estimated $9.5 million has been spent so far on the bridge’s repairs, design and inspection after the closure, an Arkansas transportation official said this week. The cost will be split between the two states.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation, which is charge of the bridge’s inspection, fired an inspector who missed the crack in 2019 and 2020. But pictures from a kayaker indicate the crack was visible in 2016.
I-40 is a key artery for U.S. commerce, running from North Carolina to California. Manufacturers and shippers rely on the interstate to move products and materials across the river. About 50,000 vehicles typically travel across the bridge when it’s open, with about a quarter of those being commercial trucks, Tennessee transportation officials say.