Little Rock Port Authority Marks $6M Grant for Improvements

Little Rock Port Authority Marks $6M Grant for Improvements
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., speaks during an event announcing a $6 million grant to the Little Rock Port. Mayor Mark Stodola, left, looks on. (Sarah Campbell)

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., joined the Little Rock Port Authority on Monday to mark a $6.2 million federal grant to make improvements to Slackwater Harbor, including a new dock with direct dock-to-rail capability and new rail storage.

The project will cost $10 million and be completed in about two years, around the time of the port's 60th anniversary, Port Authority Executive Director Bryan Day told Arkansas Business. 

"What [the grant] essentially does is allow us to build another dock on Slackwater Harbor, and what's special about this dock is it's going to be served by rail, so you're going to pull a rail right to the water's edge," Day said. "We could do containers. We could do agriculture. We could do liquids. We could do aggregates and fertilizer — taking it right off the barge into a rail car or right off a rail car onto a barge."

Day said those features are common at successful ports, particularly inland.

"When we do these infrastructure projects, it's hard to find money at times," he said. "This grant opens up that opportunity for us."

Day said this project will open new national and international markets to the port. The authority expects to see "the fruits of that investment" within five years, including new jobs.

The Little Rock Port Authority was one of 40 selected from 585 applicants to receive the money, which is coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (or TIGER) program. 

The grant requires a 40 percent match. The port authority plans to discuss more grant details during a conference call set for Thursday.

"We're celebrating today because getting a TIGER grant in the United States is a big deal…," Hill said during Monday's event. "This $6 million is going to be leveraged in a way that we've already identified between all the speakers here to today to the benefit of the growing central Arkansas economy."

Hill said receiving the grant is a compliment to local economic development efforts. 

"We are doing something right here in central Arkansas when it comes to economic development and economic growth," he said.

The Slackwater Harbor is an inland channel with no current that provides direct Arkansas River access. It has a 190-foot dock and room for two barges, two deep on both sides. It is 4,500 feet long, 15 feet deep and 320 feet wide.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and Port Authority Chairman Dexter Doyne also participated in Monday's announcement.