Pete Buttigieg conveys infrastructure from a bridge with a broken steel beam

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But with one of two interstate spans here after inspectors discovered a significant crack, Hughe’s thirty-minute trip to haulage to a nearby train terminal is now turning a two- or three-hour detour.

“They’ve been talking about it since I was little,” Hughe told CNN, standing next to his bright red Peterbilt. Riders like Hughes are paid by the mile, not by the hour. “We work five days a week, but you’re only getting paid for three because you’re off the bridge.”

Hughes drives one of an estimated 60,000 vehicles that cross the Interstate 40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge between Tennessee and Arkansas every single day until last month. Traffic has circled across what locals call the “New Bridge” and the already congested “Old Bridge” – a relic that first opened in 1949 is now the sole backbone of this important logistics hub.

“The New Bridge,” built in the 1970s, is hardly the only bridge in America to be in disrepair. The American Society of Civil Engineers says that more than 46,000 bridges nationwide — carrying 178 million vehicles daily — are structurally poor, rated poorly.

ASCE says the price tag to fix the nation’s bridge repair backlog is $125 billion. And while the Biden administration and congressional Republicans dispute this Size and priorities of an infrastructure bill, those bridges are rusting and deteriorating.
Inspection of the I-40 bridge in Memphis last week, Transport Secretary Pete Buttigiego told CNN that the project shows how “sometimes a specific piece of infrastructure in one location is really a national concern.”

logistics hub

Local officials say the routes to Memphis are important to both the region and the entire US economy.

They point out that interstate highways make it the third busiest trucking route, carrying $350 billion in freight annually. The barge arrival to the International Port of Memphis on the Mississippi River makes it the fifth largest inland port. Only one other city – Chicago – is also connected by the five largest freight railroads. And Memphis International Airport is a FedEx Superhub, making it the busiest airport in the world for air freight.

“This country needs to realize that from a transportation logistics perspective, this country doesn’t function without Memphis, Tennessee,” said logistics executive Bill Dunavant, whose firm Dunavant Enterprises has been hauling goods for generations. The need for action is especially urgent now.

The cost of fixing America's crumbling infrastructure?  About $2.6 trillion, say engineers

In a CNN interview on the I-40 bridge, Buttigieg pointed to this as an example of “tough infrastructure” where he hopes lawmakers can find consensus, even as they dispute the broad definition of infrastructure. continue. GOP negotiators on Capitol Hill have proposed significantly smaller plans than the Biden administration is asking, including money for home care and renovations and retrofits of homes.

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said after meeting with Buttigieg in Memphis that she wants to see the I-40 bridge back in service “safely and quickly.”

This is a priority Buttigieg share. The failure of projects like the I-40 bridge, he said, “will completely disrupt life for the entire region and sometimes for the entire country in this case.”

a significant crack

The acute issue with the I-40 bridge is a crack in the 900-foot steel beam, which was discovered during a May inspection. The matter was so serious that inspectors called 911 and asked dispatchers to close the bridge immediately.

The bridge is currently closed to traffic in both directions, and it is unclear when it will reopen.

“It is so easy and shocking to see a literal split in a steel beam on which millions of pounds of pressure and countless thousands of lives depend,” Buttigieg said.

This undated photo released by the Tennessee Department of Transportation shows a crack in a steel beam on the Interstate 40 bridge near Memphis.

That tragedy struck a few hundred miles to the north in 2007. Another interstate bridge over the Mississippi River – an I-35 span in Minneapolis – collapsed, killing 13 and injuring 145. Investigators attributed the failure to a design issue, not corrosion and cracks in the structure.

In its 2021 report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American bridges a C, only slightly better than the nation’s overall infrastructure rating of C-. It says that 21,000 bridges across the country are at risk of potential disaster in extreme weather, possibly from water flowing over the surface or washing away foundations.

Other common issues with bridges, said Andy Herrmann, former ASCE president, are rust and flaking metal on the steel beams and girders, and water leaking through the deck.

The cost of repairing deteriorating bridges is rising, and skyrocketing prices for steel and other supplies add to the bill. Herrmann said poor infrastructure is killing Americans daily in wallets and pocketbooks.

“We have to spend money to repair our cars with damaged roads and bridges,” he told CNN in an interview. “It’s wasting us money (on time) in traffic – we have to spend money on gasoline that we have to spend because we’re wasting it unnecessarily.”

Herrmann said he was watching politics in Washington with interest.

“I’m a little hopeful this time, but I’ve been through infrastructure in the past and I hope this time we’re going to really invest,” he said.

In Memphis, officials are watching, too. In the world of trucking, Dunvant and Hughe say that the I-40 bridge closure shows that the time is ripe for a third period there.

“We are sitting here with a bridge crisis that could have been avoided years ago,” Hughes said.

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