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Supply Chain Disrupted After Cracked Memphis Bridge Is Closed

NOEL KING, HOST:

Memphis has a transportation problem. An interstate bridge that connects the city to Arkansas has been shut down because of a large crack in a steel beam. Officials have also stopped maritime traffic on part of the Mississippi River. Here's Katie Riordan of member station WKNO.

KATIE RIORDAN, BYLINE: No one is sure when the beam cracked, but it was found during a routine inspection of the nearly 50-year-old bridge this week. Tens of thousands of cars and trucks cross the Interstate 40 Hernando de Soto Bridge every day. Now engineers are sorting out how to fix the fracture. It could take several weeks or even months to repair. Clay Bright heads the Tennessee Department of Transportation. He says they have a lot more questions than answers.

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CLAY BRIGHT: Is it safe for inspectors to get out on that bridge? And is it going to be safe for construction activities to repair the bridge?

RIORDAN: The Coast Guard halted all ship traffic on this part of the Mississippi. Already there are more than 300 barges that are stuck. The river is a major artery for commerce in the U.S., ferrying millions of tons of ship cargo from Minnesota all the way down to Louisiana into the Gulf of Mexico. Alan Barrett is a transportation analyst in Memphis. He says a couple days of delay are manageable for commercial interest, but if the bottleneck lasts longer, it could spell trouble for bigger ships in the Gulf waiting to collect the containers.

ALAN BARRETT: At some point, the oceangoing vessels that are going to go to the center Gulf to pick everything up, it won't be there to pick up. So now you see how the whole supply chain starts getting back up.

RIORDAN: For now, motorists in Memphis do have other options. There's a second bridge nearby that drivers can use, but officials concede, it's not a long-term solution. For NPR News, I'm Katie Riordan in Memphis.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOLLOWED BY GHOSTS' "BEARDS OF THE PATRIARCHS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.