U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks in Memphis Thursday, with U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland behind him. (Photo: U.S. Department of Transportation)
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced Thursday the Hernando de Soto Bridge in Memphis has been stabilized enough for crews to begin repairs but has yet to provide a reopening date.
Buttigieg traveled to Memphis to hold a roundtable discussion with Tennessee leaders, including U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Congressman Steve Cohen, about infrastructure and the I-40 bridge.
The 50-year-old Hernando de Soto Bridge served an important part of the country’s infrastructure, connecting Memphis to West Memphis and the East Coast to the West Coast.
In early May, during a routine inspection, officials found a crack in a critical part of the bridge’s steel structure, forcing Tennessee and Arkansas officials to close down the bridge. Instead, traffic has been diverted to other areas, such as I-55, causing commuters to be stuck in traffic.
The trucking industry has also been impacted and was referred to at the roundtable discussions, with FedEx officials complaining of shipping delays and truckers having to choose between sitting in congested traffic or longer alternative routes.
“And either way they’re looking at 60 minutes of congestion or more than 60 miles out of route, which is roughly $2 million a day that the industry is absorbing in cost as long as that bridge is out,” said Shannon Samples Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association.
Also attending the roundtable were FedEx Presiden Raj Subramaniam, Tennessee Trucking Association Vice President Donna England, and Ozark Motor Line’s executive Jason Higginbotham.
Afterward, Buttigieg, Cohen and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland held a press conference to discuss the need for an overhaul of America’s interstate system in anticipation of future issues.
Despite the delays, Buttigieg said the situation could have been much worse and was thankful there were no deaths associated with the bridge. He announced the creation of a program to assess what caused the fracture and to prevent future issues in other critical bridges throughout the country.
“America has fallen out of the top 10 in infrastructure and if we want to remain the leading country in the world, we have to make sure we have world-class infrastructure,” said Buttigieg.
Cohen, a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, expressed support for the Biden Administration’s $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan, which will provide money for infrastructure repair and maintenance as well as green-energy infrastructure.
“Kind of a shame that Memphis has to be a poster child for infrastructure failure,” said Cohen.
Cohen has also advocated for the construction of another bridge to span the Mississippi River at Memphis, which is estimated to cost $1.5 billion to build.
Strickland praised the collaborative work done between federal and state officials that allowed traffic congestion to be reduced from 65 minutes to 29 minutes.
Contractors hired to repair the bridge are currently evaluating the work and materials needed to initiate permanent repairs.
A press release from the Tennessee Department of Transportation stated that they’re still awaiting the results of the bridge inspection work before a tentative opening date can be set.
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