Yesterday, a large fatigue fracture in a lower support beam of the Hernando de Soto Bridge in Memphis, TN, was discovered by inspectors from Arkansas. The adjoining states share the inspection responsibility for the bridge, and every two years, this bridge is inspected. Yesterday was the first day Arkansas was responsible, and the crack was discovered almost immediately.
What is being described as a crack is a complete fracture of the steel beam along all four sides, and the beam has resected away in two parts. There’s no report on how long the beam failure has gone undetected, but it could be up to two years, one can suppose since the last bridge inspection.
Tennessee has about 19.900 bridges throughout the state, with about 300 considered “poor bridges” that need critical maintenance. Of the total, 8.400 are maintained by the state, with the remainder maintained locally. Tennessee ranks 10th in the US for the total number of bridges in a state, so they have a massive load of inspection and maintenance to do each year.
Tennessee’s Department of Transportation needs to inspect about 75 bridges per workday. Some are 20ft long little ramps over a creek, and some are large highway spans that handle millions of trips per year. And even at that amount per day, there is the follow-up and repair that needs to happen. It is all a lot of work that needs to get done to guarantee the safety of travelers.
I’m no expert on Tennessee or bridges, but it’s clear that a tragedy was luckily averted. This incident only highlights how battered and weakened the US infrastructure has become because politics is more important than people. When you hear someone in government say their first job is your safety, you can be sure that you are being lied to at that moment. I like this seven-year-old video above that has zero information about any plan and features the failed bridge three times—aged like milk.
Here is a photo of two Tennessee state reps fist-bumping the passing of a bill in the Tennessee House of Representatives, not because they allocated extra money for roads and bridges, or more educational aid for kids, or healthcare for the elderly. Nope, they’re super pumped because you can now carry a concealed handgun without a permit. I know bridges and guns are not the same things, but the point is about priorities and politics. The basics like roads and rails will always take a back seat to guns and God.
Road and rails and bridges aren’t sexy. They don’t have single-issue voting blocks as guns and abortion does. People will march the streets, fight each other, spend millions on advertising so firearms are easy to get and abortion can be as restrictive as possible. But nobody protests that the roads are crap, the bridges are failing, and there aren’t any trains to take.
There have been many, many infrastructure funding bills, taxes, and fees in the last decades across all states, and despite the trillions of dollars available, very little of the spending results in actually improved transportation. The failure of the Hernando de Soto Bridge is an embarrassment for TN and should be a wake-up call for the brittle, aging US infrastructure.