The Little Rock Port Authority received the green light to start a $10.3 million expansion project, and this week, surveyors are on site working to design it, said Bryan Day, executive director for the port authority.
Last week, the federal Maritime Administration or MARAD signed off on an agreement, allowing the project to go forward. The project will add a dock and railroad access in the Slackwater Harbor along the Arkansas River in Little Rock. The new dock will allow for more barges to use the dock and to load and unload cargo more quickly. Also, about 1 mile of railroad will be built to the dock, allowing for direct access between rail and waterborne cargo.
The port authority, which is self-funded, received a $6.2 million federal grant to help pay for the project. In July 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the port authority would receive the grant as part of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.
“It’s an incredible gift, and it will help us grow the port,” Day said.
Funding for the TIGER program, which was not included in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018, has benefitted 421 projects nationwide, providing a total of $5.1 billion since 2009. In 2016, the program provided $500 million in grants to 40 communities in the United States, and the port authority project was the only one in Arkansas that received the funding last year.
While Day doesn’t expect the port authority to receive another grant from the program, he hopes it will remain in place for his colleagues. Without it, he said the port authority would not have been able to build the new dock.
The lack of funding for the program in Trump’s proposed budget was a “tragic decision,” Day said. “I think it’s short sighted.” Transportation infrastructure projects such as the ones the program have benefited are “the lifeblood of our community.”
Garver is designing the port authority’s project, and the design work is expected to be completed in about six months. Construction should start in early 2018, and Day hopes the project will be completed by summer 2019.
ARKANSAS TIGER AWARDS
Since 2009, eight grants from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program have benefited projects in Arkansas.
In 2009, Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department received $10 million for the Bella Vista Bypass project. At the time, it showed the 19-mile project would include a “partially tolled road,” according to a grant award document. But plans have changed since then, and the project will no longer require a toll road.
In 2010, Benton and Washington counties received $15 million toward construction of the Razorback Regional Greenway, a 36-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail that runs through seven cities in Northwest Arkansas.
In 2011, the Mississippi Department of Transportation was awarded $9.81 million for technology improvements to bridges spanning the Mississippi River. Two of the four bridges in the project were the Helena Bridge and the Greenville Bridge, connecting Arkansas to Mississippi. The project included installing messaging signs, vehicle detection devices, closed-circuit TV, highway advisory radio and fiber optics “that will coordinate communication across the bridges.” The project also included monitoring equipment for barges as they travel beneath the bridges.
In 2012, West Memphis received a $10.95 million grant for the West Memphis International Rail Port Logistics Park project, allowing direct access between rail and waterborne cargo. Also that year, Memphis was awarded a $14.93 million grant, and part of it was for a bicycle and pedestrian trail on the historic Harahan Bridge, connecting Arkansas to Tennessee.
In 2013, the state highway department was given $4.96 million to resurface Highway 92 and replace two bridges in north central Arkansas, including Conway, Van Buren and Cleburne counties.
In 2014, Jonesboro received $1.2 million for an environmental review and the design of a railroad overpass on Highway 18.