‘We need to get people off the bridge as soon as possible’: Hear Tenn. bridge crews frantic 911 calls after crack found

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Audio recordings of 911 dispatchers are painting a clearer picture of just how concerned bridge inspection crews were after finding a crack in a steel beam in the Interstate 40 bridge crossing the Mississippi River between Arkansas and Tennessee.

In two recordings, crews from a team handling the inspections on behalf of the Arkansas Department of Transportation can be heard pleading with dispatchers to help them stop traffic to the Hernando DeSoto Bridge after the inspectors found the separation in the beam.

“I am doing a bridge inspection here on I-40 Mississippi River Bridge, and we just found a super critical finding that that needs traffic shut down in both directions on I-40 Mississippi River Bridge,” the inspector said on the call.

Dispatchers seemed taken aback by the request and unsure of what the crews were asking of them. The crew member went on to try and explain that they had already reached out to ARDOT about the issue before again telling dispatchers that the bridge needed to be cleared.

In a second call to 911, a different member of the inspection crew tried to clarify that they needed police to stop traffic to the bridge, a while trying to keep a strong signal with dispatchers.

During a news conference Wednesday, ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor said the steel beam that had the “significant fracture” was “crucial to the structural integrity” of the bridge.

“This fracture had the potential of becoming a catastrophic event that was prevented by our staff’s diligent effort in managing our bridge inspection program,” Tudor noted.

There is currently no estimate on how long repairs to the bridge would take. The closure has not only re-routed traffic on I-40, but also blocked barge traffic on the Mississippi River under the bridge.

Opened in 1973, the bridge carries around 37,000 vehicles every day, according to 2018 statistics. Arkansas and Tennessee split the cost for repairs and maintenance of the structure, with work on the bridge usually being handled by Tennessee Department of Transportation crews.

It was announced Wednesday that a national team was heading to the bridge to conduct another inspection.

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