Mississippi Reopens After Barge Traffic Stacked Up with Ag Products

water traffic resumes on lower Mississippi
Water traffic resumed under the Hernando DeSoto Bridge on the Mississippi - Trevor Birchett picture (CC BY-SA4)

Published May 14, 2021 2:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Lower Mississippi River was reopened to water traffic this morning by the U.S. Coast Guard. A section of the river had been ordered closed after engineers discovered a crack in a steel beam of a roadway bridge crossing the river near Memphis, Tennessee.

"Based on information provided to us by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard has determined that transit under the I-40 bridge is safe for maritime traffic," said Coast Guard Capt. Ryan Rhodes, Captain of the Port of Memphis. "We appreciate the cooperative efforts of both the Tennessee and Arkansas Departments of Transportation, as well as maritime port partners, to ensure the safety of our waterway."

The reopening came after engineers from Arkansas and Tennessee inspected the crack through one of the steel beams supporting the multi-lane interest state roadway. They were concerned that the crack might have compromised the stability of the bridge and wanted to determine if the bridge could support its weight as well as the repair crews that would be working on the structure.

The US Coast Guard Heartland reported that water traffic was quickly stacking up on the Mississippi River. Shortly after the closure, the Coast Guard reported that there were 24 vessels and 346 barges lined up waiting for transit. By last evening the number of vessels waiting had risen to 52 with a total of 901 barges. This morning before the waterway reopened the Coast Guard reported that there were now 62 vessels and 1,058 barges waiting for passage on that section of the Mississippi. 

Analysts feared that the closure could interfere with the agricultural trade for commodities such as corn and soybeans that are transported on the river. CNN quoted Mike Steenhoek Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition as saying that shippers had already begun to reduce their bids or refuse shipments entirely. He said they were waiting for more information on how long the closure might last and impact river traffic.

Engineers reported that they hoped to make initial repairs to increase the strength of the bridge, but that full repairs and a reopening to vehicle traffic could require a minimum of six to eight weeks.  On a typical day approximately 45,000 vehicles, including more than 11,00 trucks cross the bridge, which opened in 1973.

The Arkansas DOT also reported today that during the course of its investigation, evidence of earlier damage on the bridge had been discovered. “We are now investigating to see if the damage was noted in previous reports and what actions were taken.”


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