2016 Photos Reportedly Show Large Crack That Caused Indefinite Closure of Mississippi River Bridge

Photos taken by a Mississippi River kayaker in 2016 appeared to show a fracture in one of the steel beams of the Interstate 40 bridge.

The I-40 bridge linking Tennessee and Arkansas was shut down indefinitely on May 11 after inspectors found a crack in one of two 900-foot horizontal beams critical for the structural integrity of the bridge, the Associated Press reported. River barge traffic under the bridge reopened on May 14 while road traffic was rerouted to the nearby Interstate 55 bridge.

Repairs are expected to begin this week but could take months, officials said. With the heavier traffic directed toward the I-55 bridge, inspectors are checking it out to make sure it can handle the heavier traffic.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

2016 Photo Reveals Crack in Bridge
The Interstate 40 bridge is seen from the Mississippi River, between Arkansas and Tennessee, in this 2016 photo provided by Barry W. Moore. A cracked steel beam, seen above, prompted the indefinite closure of the bridge. Barry W. Moore/Associated Press

Arkansas transportation officials said they cannot confirm or refute what's shown in the 2016 photos, which raise questions about how early the crack appeared.

Barry W. Moore, 64, told AP on Wednesday that he took the photos while kayaking on the Mississippi River in August 2016 with a group of friends from the Boy Scouts, where he volunteers. Moore said he stored the images in his computer after the trip and went back to look for them after he heard about the discovery of the crack.

Moore said he zoomed in on the photos, found the crack and showed them to his brother.

"Our jaws dropped," Moore said.

An AP photo editor inspected metadata from one of Moore's photos and determined it was shot on August 6, 2016, verifying its authenticity.

Moore said he sent the photos to the state transportation departments in Tennessee and Arkansas. He heard back from the Arkansas Department of Transportation this week, he said.

Arkansas Department of Transportation spokesman Dave Parker said the agency went back through its photos of the bridge dating to the early 2000s and couldn't find anything confirming or refuting the 2016 pictures. The department, which inspects the bridge at least annually, did not have access to drone videos for its inspections before 2019.

"I can't really comment as to the accuracy of these photos," Parker said.

The kayaker's pictures, which were first reported by WMC-TV in Memphis, bring into question just how long the crack had been visible in the bridge's structure.

Adel Abdelnaby, an engineer and University of Memphis professor who has been closely watching the I-40 bridge situation, reviewed the photos for AP. He said it appears the break in the beam could have been present before 2016 because fatigue cracks take time to develop, and the beam shown in Moore's photo was already corroded.

"Based on research and science, this crack took so much time," said Abdelnaby, who has inspected bridges and performs fatigue tests on bridge beams as part of his research. "It developed as a very small crack before 2016, and it took its time to propagate."

The cause of the crack has not been officially determined, but Tennessee Department of Transportation chief engineer Paul Degges said that fatigue of having 50,000 vehicles pass daily on the bridge could be a contributing factor.

On Monday, the Arkansas Department of Transportation fired the inspector who missed the crack in the bridge's 2019 and 2020 inspections. The employee, whom the department has not yet identified, was fired after the department said the crack was visible in 2019 drone video of the bridge.

The Arkansas DOT has referred the incident to federal investigators and said it is reinspecting all the "fracture critical" bridges that had been reviewed by the fired employee.

Moore said he feels like he performed a public service by sharing the photos.

"I'm just glad I took photos," said Moore, who lives in the Memphis suburb of Collierville and is retired. "I think the engineers need to know what state it was really in five years ago."

I-40 Bridge Crack in Steel Beam
A large structural crack is seen along a girder on the bridge on Interstate 40 that spans the Mississippi River from Tennessee to Arkansas in this undated handout photo provided by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Authorities said it could take up to two months to temporarily repair the crack that was found during a routine inspection and forced emergency closure of the bridge. Tennessee Department of Transportation/Getty Images