The Hernando de Soto Bridge in Memphis, Tennessee — a vital shipping and trucking route that connects Tennessee and Arkansas — has been closed to traffic since Tuesday after a routine inspection uncovered a potentially “catastrophic” crack in one of the bridge’s beams.
Now, officials are saying even temporary repairs to the bridge could take months, prompting concerns about potentially massive economic consequences.
Paul Degges, the chief engineer of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, told CNN Thursday that it would take “probably six to eight weeks minimum” to get the bridge repaired enough so vehicles can safely traverse it.
He added that such a repair would likely be a temporary solution while engineers and contractors find a more permanent fix.
“Hopefully, we can pull a rabbit out of a hat sooner, but public safety is most important. There are lots of moving parts to look at,“ Degges said.
The consequences of the shuttered bridge, which carries Interstate 40 over the Mississippi River, are already being felt.
The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday that more than 700 barges were stuck on the Mississippi River after a waterway restriction was imposed because of the faulty bridge.
The New York Times, citing transportation industry officials, said the river could be reopened to traffic by late Friday at the earliest.
On land, however, the situation appears more bleak. The average daily traffic for the bridge is about 45,000 vehicles — one-quarter of which is commercial truck traffic, CNN reported, citing TDOT data.
All that traffic will need to be rerouted for the duration of the bridge’s closure. Heavy traffic has already been reported in the area.
William B. Dunavant III, CEO of Dunavant Enterprises, a global distribution and logistics company based in Memphis, said the bridge’s closure is expected to create “a real supply chain choke from a trucking standpoint.”
“Memphis is really a nerve center of this country from a supply chain perspective,” he told the Times.
The bridge’s closure comes amid President Joe Biden’s efforts to increase spending on infrastructure, including bridges and highways.
“After decades of disinvestment, our roads, bridges, and water systems are crumbling,” the White House said in a statement of the plan, adding: “It has never been more important for us to invest in strengthening our infrastructure and competitiveness, and in creating the good-paying, union jobs of the future.”