ARDOT fires employee over missed I-40 Mississippi River bridge crack

Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Officials with the Arkansas Department of Transportation announced Monday an employee has been fired after a crack on the Interstate 40 bridge over the Mississippi River visible in a 2019 drone video was missed. 

ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor said the employee that was fired did inspections on the Hernando DeSoto Bridge connecting Arkansas and Tennessee in 2019 and 2020. 

Officials say the employee had been with the department for about 15 years. 

According to ARDOT officials, the employee said he didn’t see the crack. Officials say the employee did not follow protocol. 

Tudor also said they were referring to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General for further investigation.  

The director said there was a failure in the inspection process.  

“We should have discovered the crack in this beam in 2019,” Tudor said. 

The bridge connecting Arkansas and Tennessee closed Tuesday for emergency repairs.  

According to Tudor, Michael Baker International was inspecting the cables last week when the crack was discovered. 

The director said Michael Baker International is not at fault and this was a process failure by ARDOT. 

Tudor said the crack had grown from 2019 to 2021. 

ARDOT officials say they will change how inspections are conducted by adding redundancy and looking at a different program. 

‘We will correct this problem, and we will become better for it,” Tudor said. 

The ARDOT director also announced all bridges inspected by the former employee will be inspected beginning this week. 

Rex Vines, Deputy Director and Chief Engineer for ARDOT, said the repair to the bridge will be done in two phases. 

The first phase is placing structural steel plates. Vines said the first phase is in the fabrication process. 

The second phase is still being refined, but a new section will replace the fractured one. 

On Friday, ARDOT confirmed that an image captured by an inspector’s drone in May 2019 drone showed evidence of damage in the same area of the bridge that closed the bridge last week.  

According to Vines, traffic will not be allowed on the bridge until the part is replaced in the second phase of the repair. 

ARDOT officials do not have a timeline for when traffic will resume on the bridge at this time. 

You can watch the full news conference in the video player above. 

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