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Mississippi River barge traffic jam after fractured bridge closed waterway

In this undated image released by the Tennessee Department of Transportation shows a crack in a steel beam on the Interstate 40 Bridge near Memphis, Tennessee.

Tennessee Department of Transportation via AP

A traffic jam on the lower Mississippi rose to 771 barges on Thursday as a fractured bridge near Memphis closed the waterway which is crucial to exports of American crops.

The shutdown has fueled concerns about shipping US grains and soybeans to export markets at a time when global stocks are slim and prices close to their eight-year highs. US corn futures fell more than 5% on high prices.

At the point where the river is closed, 26 ships with 430 barges are waiting to pass north and 21 ships with 341 barges are in line to head south, said master mariner Carlos Galarza, a door – speech of the coast guard.

A day earlier, a total of 411 barges carrying crude oil, dry cargo like crops and other materials were backed up back and forth.

A tugboat with a barge attached sits near a boat launch at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Millington, Tennessee. A crack in the Interstate 40 bridge connecting Tennessee and Arkansas interrupted traffic on the Mississippi River near Memphis. , forcing tugs carrying barges to wait until they have received clearance to pass under the closed deck.

Adrian Sainz | AP

The Tennessee Department of Transportation must complete the bridge investigation before a decision is made to reopen the river, Galarza said.

Tennessee officials hope “to have a ruling on river traffic” in the next few days or so, said Nichole Lawrence, spokesperson for the State Department of Transportation. She said a timeline had not been determined and the bridge was still being inspected.

The Coast Guard stopped all traffic on the river near Memphis on Tuesday between mile markers 736 and 737 after a fracture was discovered in the Hernando de Soto Bridge that spans the river.

Almost all grain barges must pass under the bridge to get to the Gulf of Mexico export facilities near New Orleans after being loaded along the rivers of the Upper Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois or Missouri, according to the Soy Transportation Coalition, an agriculture industry group.

Cereal traders said they expected river traffic to resume in a few days. However, shippers are not reserving barges for this and next week as the closure has left them uncertain the barges will be available, sources on the barges said.

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