French Hill, Little Rock Port Mark First Part of $10.5M Expansion


French Hill, Little Rock Port Mark First Part of $10.5M Expansion
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Arkansas, speaks at the Little Rock Port Authority on Thursday during a celebration of the completion of the first phase of its two-phase, $10.5 million project. (Sarah Campbell-Miller)

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., joined the Little Rock Port Authority on Thursday to celebrate the completion of the first phase of a two-phase, $10.5 million project that will make improvements to Slackwater Harbor, including a new dock with direct dock-to-rail capability and new rail storage.

The project is funded in part by a $6.2 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (or TIGER) program.

The Port Authority was one of 40 selected from 585 applicants to receive the money, and it had to match the grant, to the tune of $4.3 million.

Phase I was construction of 6,000 feet in new on-site railroad tracks. The work began in the fall of 2018 and cost $1.9 million, about $200,000 less than was expected, according to James Firestone, director of operations for the port.

Port Authority Executive Director Bryan Day spoke at Thursday’s celebration. 

"The first phase of the TIGER grant is the completion of additional rail track storage. Why is that important? It’s important because that's kind of how we serve our industry and how we continue to survive," he said. "… We now move about 12,000 rail cars a year. We are so busy that we do not have storage capacity to handle these cars."

Firestone added that the new infrastructure has already helped the port attract NLR Energy Logistics LLC, an ethanol distributor that uses a 110-car unit train.

"When you handle unit trains, you have to have a lot of track space to handle it," he said. With the double track that's been built, both sides of the unit train can be unloaded at the same time, increasing efficiency.

North Little Rock engineering firm Garver served as construction manager for Phase I. Phase II plans are being finalized, and it will soon be bid out. The goal is to break ground in the spring, Day said.

Firestone said the port hopes to finish the project in the first quarter of 2021.

At the celebration, Hill thanked former Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, who was also in attendance; the Little Rock Regional Chamber; other legislators; and the leadership team at the port for their hard work and support of the project and other efforts to expand the port.

"It was a team effort," Hill said. "We'll have more opportunities to make this the international logistics hub that it is. This is the Little Rock's gateway to international commerce, right here at the port."