Photos taken by a Mississippi River kayaker about five years before a crack was found in the Interstate 40 bridge linking Tennessee and Arkansas appear to show the fracture that led transportation officials to close the span indefinitely last week, the AP reports. Arkansas transportation officials said they cannot confirm or refute what’s shown in the 2016 photos, which raise questions about how early the crack (which an ex-inspector missed in both the 2019 and 2020 inspections) appeared. The I-40 bridge connecting Memphis and the Arkansas city of West Memphis was shut down May 11 after inspectors found a crack in one of two 900-foot horizontal steel beams that are critical for the bridge’s structural integrity. River barge traffic under the span was closed that day but reopened three days later. Road traffic has been rerouted to the nearby Interstate 55 bridge.
Repairs to the heavily used, six-lane I-40 bridge are expected to begin this week, but a long-term fix could take months, officials said. The states are relying on the four-lane, 71-year-old I-55 bridge to get cars and trucks across the Mississippi River and maintain the flow of commercial vehicles. Engineers are inspecting the I-55 bridge to make sure it can withstand the heavier traffic. Barry W. Moore, 64, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he took the photos while kayaking on the Mississippi River in August 2016 with a group of friends from the Boy Scouts, where he volunteers. Moore said he stored the images in his computer after the trip and went back to look for them after he heard about the discovery of the crack. Moore said he zoomed in on the photos, found the crack and showed them to his brother. “Our jaws dropped,” Moore said. (More here.)