More barges sit still on I-40 bridge awaiting timeline on reopening

The number of vessels and the barges they push has tripled since Wednesday
Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 6:06 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - We’re into day three of the I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge closure, after a crack was found in one of the bridge’s support beams Tuesday afternoon.

Below the bridge, shipping vessels and their barges have tripled since river traffic was closed, as well as vehicle traffic on the bridge.

According to Capt. Ryan Rhodes with the U.S. Coast Guard’s Lower Mississippi River Sector, the number jumped from 16 vessels carrying 229 barges, to 45 vessels carrying 737 barges in a span of 24 hours.

“The Coast Guard is continuing to work with TDOT to determine when we can safely open the river to commercial traffic,” Rhodes said in a written statement.

TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges said in Wednesday’s press conference that he hopes to have inspection results that could determine when river traffic can open back up in the near future.

“The first calculation is how can the bridge stand by itself,” Degges said during the press conference. “If we get the answer to that, then we’ll be able to answer the question of can we reopen for barge traffic on the river.”

Fortunately, supply chain management experts feel the number won’t get much higher.

“I would be in hopes that companies were at least on standby mode before they would be launching additional vessels that would be impacted,” said Ernie Nichols, associate professor of supply chain management with the University of Memphis.

The International Port of Memphis is the fourth largest inland port in the country, and Nichols says any amount of time a sector like Memphis is cut off could have a strain on regional, if not national, commerce.

“The question becomes how long things are going to be disrupted,” Nichols said. “You’re going to have to find another approach.”

Road and rail would be those other approaches, but Nichols says it could cost companies more to deliver certain products that way.

Rhodes said around 430,000 tons of commodities travel under the I-40 bridge every day, and Nichols says the reason those products are shipped on the river, as compared to other forms of transportation, is because it costs less.

“Those that are already near Memphis will need to be rerouted and offloaded elsewhere,” Nichols said, regarding if the bridge closure continues into the next several days.

Degges also mentioned in the press conference that he hopes to have answers on the bridge’s stand-alone capacity in the next day or so.

When last asked, said that they had no further information to provide at this time.

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