Documents: Memphis bridge crack would have been discovered earlier if procedures followed

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG has learned more about the bridge inspector terminated by the Arkansas Department of Transportation, as the contracting group tasked with repairing the I-40 bridge prepared the bridge for its workers Thursday.

Monty Frazier was identified in ARDOT documents obtained Thursday as the lead inspector on both the Sept. 3, 2019 and Sept. 1, 2020 inspections of the bridge.

Those inspections failed to detect a crack in a metal beam that was later discovered during a routine inspection on May 11 of this year. The bridge, which carried nearly 40,000 vehicles a day, has been closed to traffic since then, and officials don’t know when it will reopen.

By the time the crack was detected last week it had turned into a partial fracture of a tie girder and “was severe enough to put the structure in jeopardy of failing,” the memo continued.

The memo states that Frazier should have gotten within arm’s length of the outside of the girder. Frazier said he didn’t do so because it was unsafe. The memo states that was not true.

Documents show Frazier was terminated May 17. As statewide bridge inspector, he oversaw reviews for nine ‘critical bridges’ in Arkansas. Those are being re-inspected.

ARDOT has previously said evidence existed of the crack as early as 2019.

Thursday, workers began installing a temporary work platform so that repairs can officially get underway.

It’s the first step in a long process to re-open the I-40 bridge. First, workers have to build the location where they’ll be able to make repairs.

Workers with Kiewit Infrastructure were getting scaffolding in place on the bridge Thursday. (WREG photo)

They’re doing so under the watchful eye of the Federal Highway Administration, which met with Tennessee and Arkansas officials Thursday morning to discuss how the project will progress and how local communities are being affected by the closure.

But the Federal Highway Administration is also reviewing ARDOT’s bridge inspection process after a self-admitted failure to properly inspect and report issues on the I-40 bridge.

With ARDOT’s system being evaluated and elected officials on both sides of the aisle calling for improved infrastructure, the Federal Highway Administration says the Mid-South traffic system could be in for major change once the I-40 bridge is fully functional.

“I’m also hearing a lot about the need to have a longer-term plan to make sure that traffic works, traffic on the river works, freight traffic works and people can get to where they need,” said Stephanie Pollack, Deputy Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration.

Officials are hopeful the temporary work platform will be done by Friday afternoon so repairs can officially begin. There’s still no completion date in sight but a Federal Highway Administration worker admitted it could be “a few months.”

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