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Damage to Mississippi River bridge shakes many of us.

Ginger Rowsey, Senior writer

June 3, 2021

2 Min Read
The Mighty Mississippi with the I-40 bridge in the background.Raymond Gehman / Getty Images

I was returning home from a trip to southern Arkansas a few weeks ago. Headed back to western Tennessee. I purposely set my GPS to take the slightly longer route home. My plan was to cross the Mississippi River at Helena, mainly to avoid Memphis during rush hour traffic. 

As I drove along, an alert popped up on my GPS asking if I wanted to save 10 minutes of driving time. I didn’t look at my phone to see how it was re-routing me. I assumed the “shortcut” was bypassing a small town or dodging road construction. The idea of 10 less minutes behind the wheel was too good to pass up. I hit the Yes button and kept following the blue line on the screen. 

I soon realized I was heading straight for Interstate 40 and eventually Memphis. Exactly where I didn’t want to go. Not wanting to backtrack at that point, I charged ahead — hopeful Google Maps had factored afternoon gridlock in the ETA. 

Apparently, it had not. About 80 miles later I was sitting at a complete standstill. Trapped between the two states on the Hernando de Soto Bridge. 

I was frustrated, to put it mildly, mainly at myself. I remember thinking my circumstances would make a good column. Something about the pitfalls of technology and the consequences of blindly following it. Perhaps a critique of society’s obsession with shortcuts. 

However, in light of recent events, this has become a very different column. Instead of venting frustrations, I’m counting my blessings. Perspective is a funny thing, isn’t it?  

The photos of the structural crack in one of the bridges’ beams were horrifying. Officials called it a potential catastrophe. I’m just glad I made it to the other side. 

I don’t have a fear of bridges, but I’ll be honest, I don’t relish being stuck on one for extended periods of time. You can’t help but think of the sheer weight the bridge is supporting. All you can do is have faith that the people who built it did it right, and that those who inspect the structure are paying attention.  

That’s why the most troubling part of the story is that an inspector missed the substantial crack twice — in 2019 and again in 2020. Meanwhile, the fracture steadily expanded until it was finally detected by a different inspector. My gratitude to that individual, whose diligence no doubt saved many lives. 

It is almost beyond belief that damage of this magnitude — on one of America’s busiest bridges — could go unnoticed for so long. Was it due to a flaw in the system, or the negligence of one person? How many other cracks in how many other bridges are being overlooked? The next time I cross one, I’ll wonder. 

Maybe this is a critique of shortcuts after all. 

About the Author(s)

Ginger Rowsey

Senior writer

Ginger Rowsey joined Farm Press in 2020, bringing more than a decade of experience in agricultural communications. Her previous experiences include working in marketing and communications with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. She also worked as a local television news anchor with the ABC affiliate in Jackson, Tennessee.

Rowsey grew up on a small beef cattle farm in Lebanon, Tennessee. She holds a degree in Communications from Middle Tennessee State University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee at Martin. She now resides in West Tennessee with her husband and two daughters.

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