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Mississippi River near Memphis reopens to barge traffic under damaged bridge

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 7:11 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Barge traffic on the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge was slow Thursday, May 13.

Just a couple of hundred miles away in Memphis, Tenn., barges sat in a traffic jam.

River traffic through Memphis was stopped after bridge inspectors found a crack in the infrastructure of the Hernando de Soto Bridge.

On Friday, May 14, the U.S. Coast Guard announced officials have lifted the waterway restriction from mile marker 736 to mile marker 737 along the Mississippi River.

According to the Coast Guard, the waterways located underneath the I-40 bridge have been ruled safe for maritime traffic Friday, May 14.

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“The first calculation is, ‘How can the bridge stand by itself?’ asked Paul Deggs, president of the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation. “If we get the answer to that, then we’ll be able to answer the question of, ‘Can we reopen for barge traffic on the river?’”

There is no estimate on how long that process could take.

The head of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, Jay Hardman, is hoping it will not take long for traffic to start flowing again. He said if the stoppage lasts more than two weeks, the economic impact could be billions.

“Just through the lower Mississippi moves somewhere around half a billion tons of, 500 million tons of cargo annually,” said Hardman. “You can start translating and it eventually starts affecting everybody at home to have the Mississippi River shut down.”

The ports in Louisiana largely receive products coming south like grain, stone, and concrete. The grain is typically stored in elevators until it can be shipped globally.

“There’s a tremendous amount of stone that comes downriver for use in everything from construction and armament of levees to the pouring of house slabs,” Hardman added.

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