LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – An inspector who failed to find a crack in the Interstate 40 bridge between Arkansas and Tennessee that caused the span to close has been fired, officials said Monday. Arkansas transportation.
Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lorie Tudor said the inspector was fired after video from a drone showed crack on the bridge over the Mississippi River in May 2019. Tudor said that the crack was not noted by the inspector in his reports for the fall or the following year.
“This is unacceptable,” Tudor said at a press conference. The department did not immediately name the employee and said the incident was being referred to federal investigators as well.
Arkansas DOT released an image and video of the drone on Monday, which showed the crack. The images of the drone were taken by a consultant inspecting the cables of the bridge.
Traffic on the six-lane bridge was halted last Tuesday after inspectors discovered a “major fracture” in one of two 900-foot horizontal steel girders that are critical to the integrity of the bridge. River traffic under the span was closed on Tuesday but reopened on Friday.
The closure impacted a busy corridor and raised concerns about shipping and delivery charges. The Arkansas Trucking Association estimated on Friday that the shutdown would cost the trucking industry at least $ 2.4 million per day.
Traffic was redirected to Interstate 55 and the 71-year-old Memphis & Arkansas Bridge, about 3 miles south.
Authorities in Arkansas and Tennessee have not given a timetable for the bridge to reopen. The Tennessee Department of Transportation said on Monday that repairs to the I-40 bridge will be carried out in two phases and both phases must be completed before the bridge can be reopened to road traffic.
The first step is to install steel plates on either side of the fractured beam to provide stability for the teams to permanently replace the damaged parts, TDOT said in a statement. The plates are in the process of being manufactured and manufacturing is expected to be complete by Wednesday, TDOT said. The second phase involves the removal and replacement of the damaged part of the bridge.
Nebraska-based Kiewit Corporation was selected Monday afternoon for bridge repair work, Arkansas DOT spokesman Dave Parker said. Tennessee transportation officials said Kiewit could start work as early as Wednesday.
The Tennessee DOT also said it would review the condition of the I-55 bridge “out of caution.” The drone review is expected to take place on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Tudor said all “critical fracture” bridges that had been inspected by the terminated employee will be reinspected. She said the fired employee, who had worked for the department for about 15 years, did not follow proper protocol when inspecting the bridge.
“The way we’re supposed to inspect the bridge is to literally walk inch by inch along that beam and physically inspect every inch of the beam,” she says. “This does not happen.”
Tudor said the ministry was making changes to its inspection program to add additional checks, including the use of a new drone to make it easier to inspect bridges. Tudor said last week that the damage to the bridge could have led to a “catastrophic” event had it not been discovered.
The bridge closure comes as the White House negotiates with a group of Senate Republicans over an infrastructure package. Democrats have called the damage to the I-40 bridge an example of the urgent need for additional funding to repair bridges and roads across the country.
Republicans called for an infrastructure plan with a lower price tag than President Joe Biden and with a narrower definition of public works.