By now you’ve probably heard about the nearly catastrophic defect on the I-40 bridge over the Mississippi River. The bridge was shut down last month when a contractor inspecting the bridge found that one of the two main horizontal beams had completely broken in two. The inspector so urgently wanted the bridge shut down that he called 911 and demanded that the police be dispatched to cut off all traffic as soon as possible!
Now it seems that the ARDOT engineer who was responsible for inspecting the I-40 bridge could face federal charges of fraud. Evidence recently surfaced that a crack in the bridge’s beam has been visible since 2019, yet the ARDOT bridge inspections in 2019 and 2020 failed to identify the defect. Memphis Fox 13 reports that the same engineer was responsible for inspecting the bridge during both years and his reports did not identify that the crack existed.
This issue came to light recently when a man posted his 2019 river cruise photos on social media. The footage clearly shows a crack present where the beam broke sometime this year. This prompted ARDOT to release drone inspection footage from 2019 which also photographed the crack during an unrelated inspection by a contractor.
So if the crack was so obvious in 2019, why wasn’t it discovered in either of the two ARDOT bridge inspections in 2019 or 2020? It turns out that the same engineer working for ARDOT, a 15-year veteran, was responsible for those inspections. This engineer has now been fired, and his team members are being interviewed.
ARDOT also referred the case to the FBI, who is now determining whether there should be an investigation of fraudulent activity involved with the bridge inspections and reports. If the inspections were paid for with federal funds, the engineer could face federal criminal charges. If so, this would be a rare case in which an engineer has faced federal criminal charges due to the quality of his work, especially when there were no injuries or deaths involved in the incident.
I regularly follow cases like this because they can serve as interesting case studies for Engineering Ethics. In fact, my most popular online course, Engineering Ethics On Trial, explores four similar case studies of engineers getting into serious trouble due to their highly unethical behavior.
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