Two weeks ago, we were all alarmed to learn about a significant crack in a beam that supports the I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge, which connects Arkansas and Tennessee.
Inspectors found no other problems, and now that the repair has begun, we can breathe easier. I am grateful inspectors found that crack and prevented a catastrophe.
I’m also thankful that Arkansans passed Issue 1 last year to keep the half-cent sales tax for road construction and maintenance. That investment provides continued state funds for the inspection and repair of our highways, roads, and bridges.
We’ve been hearing much talk recently about infrastructure. Congress is negotiating an infrastructure package with President Biden. Some of the discussion focuses on exactly what qualifies as infrastructure.
In my view, infrastructure includes highways, roads, airports, ship ports, power grids, water supply, communication systems, and now the broadband system. Infrastructure requires partnerships between the private sector and government, and cooperation between state government and federal government.
Today, our attention is on our transportation infrastructure and the bridge that crosses the Mississippi River between West Memphis and Memphis. The bridge opened in 1973, and the Arkansas Department of Transportation has retrofit it for earthquakes. About 41,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day. Since we discovered the cracked beam, we have closed the bridge and rerouted traffic to the I-55 bridge, which opened in 1949. Bridge inspectors from Arkansas and Tennessee inspected the bridge after we closed the DeSoto bridge and found the I-55 bridge to be safe.
The company that is repairing the bridge has bolted steel plates on each side of the cracked beam. The company has hung the platforms that will support the repair crews.
We don’t know how long the bridge will remain closed, but the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation said on Thursday that the repairs may not be completed until August. The closure has caused delays that are costing the trucking industry $2.4 million a day. That’s just one of the costs when we have to shut down a piece of the infrastructure that connects our nation.
This near disaster illustrates how interdependent we are. It also illustrates the urgency for states to be proactive in maintaining infrastructure. That is why Issue 1 was so important. Our investment in highways provides Arkansas the resources to inspect roads and bridges and to keep them in good repair, and to respond quickly to emergencies.
Everyone knows we need good roads for our daily lives. We also know that maintaining safe roads is expensive. I am grateful that Arkansas voters were willing to approve the money that will allow us to keep our roads and bridges safe.