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Interstate 40 Bridge Closure Could Cost Arkansas Truckers Millions

The normally busy lanes of the Hernando de Soto Bridge carrying Interstate 40 over the Mississippi River sit empty on Thursday afternoon.
The normally busy lanes of the Hernando de Soto Bridge carrying Interstate 40 over the Mississippi River sit empty on Thursday afternoon.

Road and river travel continues to be affected as the closure of the Interstate 40 bridge over the Mississippi River stretches on.

Transportation officials said repairs could take months after the bridge was closed Tuesday following the discovery of a crack in a steel beam during an inspection.

Barge traffic along the river has stalled, while trucks and cars have faced hours-long delays from being diverted to the smaller Interstate 55 river bridge. The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday reported 16 vessels towing 229 barges are unable to pass under the bridge, which connects West Memphis, Ark. to Memphis, Tenn.

Arkansas Trucking Association president Shannon Newton says the economic impact of the closure could reach into the tens of millions of dollars.

“There’s 26,000 trucks that are typically using that route. If they’re each delayed one hour, either one hour in traffic or one hour in re-routing to a different alternative, that cost is about $1.7 million a day on the trucking industry,” Newton said.

Newton says the trucking industry likely won’t recoup the revenue lost due to a prolonged bridge closure, though trucking companies could end up charging customers higher rates for going through the area, which could end up raising the price of consumer goods.

“The fact that there is a driver shortage drives up the cost of moving freight. The fact that we’ve had a gasoline shortage drives up the cost of moving freight,” Newton said. “And then you take out the I-40 bridge connecting West Memphis and Memphis, and all of those are ultimately going to lead to a higher price for moving freight.”

Newton says trucks ferrying goods cross-country can choose alternate river crossings both north and south of Memphis, though trucks delivering goods to Arkansas will likely not be able to avoid congested traffic on the smaller Interstate 55 river bridge.

Newton said she hopes the bridge closure will send a message as lawmakers in Washington debate President Biden’s $1.9 trillion infrastructure package.

“It feels as though there are a lot of ornaments that are being referred to as infrastructure, which have made the president’s package so large that it’s not really palatable. So I hope this is an opportunity to say roads and bridges, that’s what’s infrastructure.”

Arkansas Republican Congressman Rick Crawford, who represents West Memphis, says he and lawmakers from western Tennessee are working to determine next steps.

Daniel Breen is a reporter and anchor for UA Little Rock Public Radio.
Formally KUAR, news from the staff of content partners Little Rock Public Radio at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. They are a NPR member station.