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by Tyne Morgan,

A significant fracture on the Interstate-40 bridge that connects Tennessee to Arkansas has now closed the bridge not only to vehicle traffic but also to barges, until the issue can be fixed. The emergency shutdown is now a barrier for barge traffic on the Mississippi River.

The Soy Transportation Coalition says the fracture was discovered during a routine inspection that occurs every two years. The crack was on a beam that authorities say is essential to the bridge's structural integrity.

The Coalition says the temporary shutdown comes with no timeline on when barge traffic will resume. It's a major blow for the high-traffic area. Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Coalition, says it's an essential route for export traffic.

"Most every barge loaded with soybeans, corn, or other agricultural commodity along the upper Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, or Missouri rivers is destined to Gulf of Mexico export facilities near New Orleans, and therefore, must pass underneath the I-40 bridge," Steenhoek explains.

The Coalition says the data speaks to just how large of an issue this is. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the week ending May 1, 438 barges moved down the riverway destined for Gulf export facilities, with the majority of those barges loaded north of Memphis.

"It is reasonable to assume hundreds of barges of U.S. grain will be negatively impacted by the closure depending on its duration," says Steenhoek. "Because U.S. soybeans are primarily exported between the months of September and February, other commodities, particularly corn, will bear more of the brunt of the barge traffic suspension, but soybeans will clearly be impacted as well."

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