This undated image, released by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, shows a crack in a steel girder on the Interstate 40 bridge near Memphis, Tenn.
Tennessee Department of Transportation via AP
A traffic jam on the lower Mississippi swelled to 771 barges Thursday when a broken bridge near Memphis blocked the waterway, which is vital to US crop exports.
The shutdown raised concerns about shipping U.S. grain and soy to export markets at a time when global inventories are low and prices near eight-year highs. US corn futures declined more than 5%, a setback from high prices.
At the point where the river is closed, 26 ships with 430 ships are waiting to go north and 21 ships with 341 ships are queuing to go south, Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Carlos said Galarza.
A day earlier, a total of 411 barges with crude oil, dry cargo such as grain and other materials were secured in both directions.
A tug with a barge attached is located in Millington, Tennessee, near a boat ramp in Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. A crack in the Interstate 40 bridge between Tennessee and Arkansas has shut down traffic on the Mississippi near Memphis, forcing tugs pulling the barges to wait to be cleared that it is safe to pass under the closed bridge .
Adrian Sainz | AP
The Tennessee Department of Transportation must complete its investigation of the bridge before a decision is made to reopen the river, Galarza said.
Tennessee officials hope to “make a decision on river traffic the next day,” said Nichole Lawrence, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman. She said a schedule had not been set and the bridge was still being inspected.
The Coast Guard stopped all traffic on the river near Memphis between mile markers 736 and 737 on Tuesday after a break was discovered in the Hernando de Soto Bridge that spans the river.
Almost all grain ships must pass under the bridge on their way to the Gulf of Mexico export facilities near New Orleans after being loaded along the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, or Missouri rivers, according to the Soy Transportation Coalition, an agribusiness group .
Grain traders expect river traffic to resume within a few days. However, shippers are not booking barges for this week and next as they are unsure whether barges will be available due to the closure.