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New I-40 detour set amid flooding

High waters close I-40 in eastern Ark.

Posted: May 6, 2011 at 9:02 a.m.
Updated: May 6, 2011 at 3:59 p.m.

Heavy traffic crosses the White River on a bridge near Augusta, Ark., after the westbound lanes of Interstate 40, about 30 miles south, were closed Thursday, May 5, 2011 due to high water.

Heavy traffic crosses the White River on a bridge near Augusta, Ark., after the westbound lanes of Interstate 40, about 30 miles south, were closed Thursday, May 5, 2011 due to high water.

— 4 p.m. — A new route was being planned for the eastbound Interstate 40 detour at Hazen as White River continued to rise.

Highway 1 near St. Charles is closed, but the westbound I-40 detour has not been affected.

Eastbound traffic is being directed off of I-40 at Hazen (Exit 193). All traffic must travel south on Highway 63 to Stuttgart, where only cars will be detoured to Highway 79 east to Highway 49 north to Brinkley (Exit 216) and then east on I-40.

A truck detour is at Stuttgart. Trucks will have two options: Option A is Highway 79 south to Pine Bluff and Highway 65 south to Greenville. Option B is Highway 165 through De Witt to Dumas and then Highway 65 to Greenville.

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Flooding that forced an unprecedented closure Thursday along a busy section of I-40 in eastern Arkansas disrupted commercial traffic and caused hours of delays that trucking companies warned could disrupt businesses nationwide.

Transportation officials said they have no choice but to wait until the White River recedes from the westbound lanes of the highway. Drivers bound for Little Rock were forced onto a 120-mile detour in Brinkley, as opposed to the normal 70-mile route, and many truckers had to end their days hundreds of miles from their planned stops.

“If you take a two-hour drive and it’s now running five to six hours, it causes a major disruption in the whole supply chain,” said Lane Kidd, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association. “That particular segment of interstate is so important to interstate commerce.”

Officials closed I-40’s westbound lanes between Brinkley and Hazen, a 23-mile stretch that includes a bridge spanning the swollen river. Drivers west of Hazen were able to take I-40 toward Little Rock.

Eastbound lanes had been open but were closed Thursday night, highway department spokesman Glenn Bolick said.

Motorists must take Arkansas Highway 63 to State Highway 165, get on Arkansas Highway 1 at DeWitt and head toward Marvell, Bolick said. From there, drivers can either take Highway 1 north to Forrest City or continue through West Helena.

The White River has been breaking water-level records for days, pushed by heavy rains and a backup along the Mississippi River. At Des Arc, just north of the interstate, the river hit 38.74 feet Thursday evening — more than a foot above the previous record. The river isn’t expected to crest there until Saturday.

The interstate could remain closed through the weekend, Bolick said. He said it was the first time that flooding has shut down the interstate.

Trucking companies reported two- to three-hour delays for drivers forced to take detours. Some were forced to cut routes short due to federal limits on how long commercial drivers can work, usually 10 or 11 hours before a mandatory break.

Cross-country drivers could avoid Arkansas by taking other highways, but drivers on regional routes would be more likely to face delays, officials said.

At least eight people have died since last week because of flooding in Arkansas, and at least 16 deaths have been attributed to severe weather since April 25.

Gov. Mike Beebe declared six more counties — Greene, Johnson, Lee, Nevada, Poinsett, and Pope — as disaster areas Thursday, a spokesman said. That means 63 of the state’s 75 counties have been declared disaster areas, as tornadoes and flooding have hit much of the state.

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