Massive structural fracture in I-40 bridge over Mississippi will close it indefinitely

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The Hernando de Soto Bridge carrying Interstate 40 over the Mississippi River between Arkansas and Tennessee at Memphis has been closed indefinitely due to a crack in one of its main support beams. Officials said Thursday that the crack could take "months" to repair.

The closure will force road traffic to detour over the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge approximately two miles to the south. River traffic has been halted temporarily while crews assess the safety of passing beneath the damaged structure. Road crews were poised to remove any cars that crash or otherwise become stuck on the four-lane I-55 bridge. The next nearest Mississippi River crossings are about 60 miles to the south near Lula, Mississippi, and 100 miles to the north near Dyersburg, Tennessee.

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Inspectors were working to determine if the I-40 bridge could hold its own weight and the weight of construction crews, said Paul Degges, chief engineer for the Tennessee transportation department. Barge traffic will not resume until engineers decide that the bridge can stand on its own, he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said 16 tug boats hauling more than 220 barges were waiting in line Wednesday. At least four tugs attached to barges sat idle Wednesday near a boat ramp at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the bridge.

This article contains reporting by the Associated Press.

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