MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - An employee with the Arkansas Department of Transportation who inspected the I-40 bridge over the Mississippi in 2019 and missed a major crack that shut down the bridge two years later is now out of a job and may face criminal charges.
ArDOT officials announced the inspector’s firing Monday at a news conference in Little Rock.
Kiewit Construction, the same group working on the Cantrell widening project has been selected to do the I-40 bridge repair, a spokesperson confirmed.
The employee who inspected the bridge in 2019 and 2020 was not using proper protocol and failed to “carry out his responsibilities.”
ArDOT Director Lorie Tudor said this incident proved negligence in “the inspection process” and the crack “should’ve been discovered in 2019.”
In addition to hands on inspection, ArDOT has purchased a drone.
Tudor said the department will reinspect the I-55 bridge, which is the current main source of traffic between Arkansas at Memphis.
Repairs will happen in two phases, according to ArDOT.
Phase 1 will require steel plates to be installed on both sides of the fractured beam to provide stability. TDOT estimates the fabrication of the 11,000-pound beams will be completed by Wednesday, May 19.
Designs for Phase 2 are currently underway and will be finalized with a selected contractor in the coming days.
The bridge remains closed indefinitely while transportation officials determine if it’s safe to resume vehicular traffic and continue working on a plan for repairs.
The bridge closed nearly a week ago when a routine inspection uncovered the fracture in a support beam in the bridge’ struss, but in the days since videos and photos have surfaced showing the crack as far back as 2019 prior to that year’s inspection.
Last week, ArDOT confirmed an inspector’s drone video from May 2019 showed the same damage. ArDOT declined to release the inspector’s 2019 drone video.
ArDOT says over time, climate and the weight of traffic can expand cracks in bridges; however, they’re unsure if the fracture was as significant in 2019 as it is in 2021.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is in charge of repairs on the bridge. TDOT’s design team is considering using steel rods over the damaged area until that whole 37-foot section can be replaced.
In the meantime, even though drivers can’t cross, barge traffic under the bridge has resumed on the Mississippi River.