The Coast Guard reopened the Mississippi River to all vessel traffic near Memphis Friday morning. The shutdown of a part of the waterway had disrupted shipments of corn, soybeans and other commodities, causing a backlog of more than 1,000 barges.
Traffic was stopped Tuesday after transportation officials found of a beam fracture in the Interstate 40 bridge (Hernando DeSoto Bridge) that connects Arkansas and Tennessee.
“Based on information provided to us by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard has determined that transit under the I-40 bridge is safe for maritime traffic,” Coast Guard Capt. Ryan Rhodes, captain of the Port of Memphis, said in a news release Friday. “We appreciate the cooperative efforts of both the Tennessee and Arkansas departments of transportation, as well as maritime port partners, to ensure the safety of our waterway.”
The reopening will begin to ease a jam of 62 vessels, with a total of 1,058 barges that were waiting to pass through the closed area, according to the Coast Guard.
Almost all grain barges must pass under the de Soto bridge on their way to Gulf of Mexico export facilities near New Orleans after being loaded along the upper Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri rivers.
The closure of the river to traffic for almost four days sent grain markets nosediving Thursday. Industry experts attribute at least a portion of the volatility to this supply chain disruption.
“We’ve got really tight supplies already. We got very strong demand,” Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, explained to FreightWaves. “Then, when all of a sudden you basically put a kink in the hose, you can no longer effectively meet demand. That’s going to have a depressive effect on the value of the commodities.”
Even though it could take at least two days for the backlog to clear, Steenhoek said it could have been worse. However, he believes there’s a lot of work to be done to improve the country’s bridges and hopefully reduce these disruptions.
“I routinely express how the United States can increasingly be described as a spending nation, not an investing nation. There is a big difference between the two,” Steenhoek added. “As we move forward, it is my hope that this situation will further galvanize efforts to produce a comprehensive infrastructure investment strategy that addresses the needs of both urban and rural America.”
During the course of their investigation, Arkansas Department of Transportation inspectors found earlier evidence of damage on the bridge. They are now investigating to see if the damage was noted in previous reports and what actions were taken. As of Friday afternoon, the de Soto bridge was still closed to vehicular traffic.
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