Little Rock Port Authority receives $6.2 million federal award to expand Arkansas River harbor, add rail access

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 668 views 

The Little Rock Port Authority (LRPA) was awarded nearly $6.2 million on Friday (July 29) from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to help build a new dock in the Slackwater Harbor that will expand rail capability and storage that will open up the Arkansas River port to global markets.

The Little Rock harbor project was among a select number of developments across the U.S. to receive a portion of the more than $500 million from the DOT’s TIGER grant program, which will support $1.74 billion in transportation investments nationwide.

On Friday afternoon, LRPA Executive Director Brian Day said he had just learned about the federal award on Friday after getting a notice from DOT officials. He added, excitedly, that the federal award will allow the authority to build an additional river dock that will add much-needed railway capacity to the Central Arkansas transportation hub.

“We are really surprised and excited about this. It will really change the port and take us up a bar by opening up the harbor and give us the ability to add a couple of commodities that we now don’t have,” Day said.

According to information on the Little Rock Port Authority’s website, the Slackwater Harbor is an inland channel from the Arkansas River providing direct river access. At 4500 feet long, 15 feet deep, 320 feet wide, the harbor has no current and provides an enormous capacity for export development. Day cited the importance of further developing the 190-foot dock area, which has enough access for two barges on both sides of the river harbor. He added that expansion of the harbor area is also crucial element in drawing foreign direct investment and giving Arkansas and other Mid-America manufacturers the ability to export and access global markets.

“This adds another piece of infrastructure where will be able to easily load and unload barges that can ship to anywhere in the world,” he said.

Day said this was the first time that the authority applied for federal TIGER funds through the DOT’s competitive application process. He said the LRPA staff, along with support from the City of Little Rock and Pulaski County, completed the TIGER fund application in April and received an official Friday notice from the DOT. The port authority expects to receive an “official” award letter from federal DOT officials early next week with additional information on when the funds will be available to begin construction on the project, Day said, which will cost about $10.3 million.

He said the authority will be able to completely fund the project through the TIGER award, local and state matching funds and other sources.

“We will begin design and development immediately because it will likely take two years to build, but this is a big deal,” he said. “Hopefully construction can begin by the first of (2017).”

For past TIGER fund winners in Arkansas, the federal funds were able to leverage money from private sector partners, states, local governments, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies. According to the DOT, the Little Rock Port Authority project was the lone award winner in Arkansas for this round of funds.

“The project increases port capacity, which facilitates the removal of an estimated 50,000 annual large cargo trucks from national highways,” a DOT fact sheet on the LRPA project states. “It also enhances safety by reducing truck traffic on highways.”

Day said the expansion of the Slackwater Harbor is among a number of projects the LRPA developed in a capital improvement plan initiated last year to bring more investment and traffic to the river port. Last week, LRPA officials unveiled an initiative with wireless giant AT&T to certify the port as “fiber ready.” Through the program, AT&T will work closely with local economic and development leaders to help industrial parks, office campuses, building owners and other commercial real estate providers promote the availability of high-speed broadband services to local prospective businesses.

According to Transportation Department officials, demand for the 2016 TIGER grant program this year far exceeded available funds. The DOT received 585 eligible applications from all 50 States, and several U.S. territories, tribal communities, cities, and towns throughout the United States, collectively requesting over $9.3 billion in funding.

“For the eighth year running, TIGER will inject critical infrastructure dollars into communities across the country,” DOT Secretary Foxx said in a statement. “This unique program rewards innovative thinking and collaborative solutions to difficult and sometimes dangerous transportation problems. A great TIGER program doesn’t just improve transportation; it expands economic opportunity and transforms a community.”

During the previous seven rounds, the DOT received more than 7,300 applications requesting more than $143 billion for transportation projects across the country. Since 2009, the TIGER grant program has provided a combined $5.1 billion to 421 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and tribal communities.