Port Finalizes Federal Transportation Grant

    By D.E. Smoot dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com

Construction at the Port of Muskogee could begin as early as October on a project to modernize and expand its railroad infrastructure.

The $12.31 million project will make the port accessible to six-axle locomotives, which are unable to navigate the narrow arc of the existing tracks. The project, made possible by a federal transportation grant along with private- and public-sector partnerships, will include the addition of about 11,900 feet of track, expanding capacity of the existing marshaling yard.

“This is great news for Muskogee and the port,” Port Director Scott Robinson said after directors approved the final terms of the grant along with contracts for engineering and project oversight. “Modern rail access for manifest and unit train service will ensure the continued growth and success of the port for years to come.”

The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, grant worth nearly $5.79 million requires a local match of the same amount. Muskogee City-County Port Authority partnered with the city, the City of Muskogee Foundation, Union Pacific Railroad, Bruce Oakley Inc., Paragon Industries and Metals USA to secure matching funds.

Robinson said securing a $2.1 million loan from the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority through its Economic Development Pooled Finance program “was a critical part of being able to make this project happen.” The program, established in 2009 by the Oklahoma Community Economic Development Pooled Finance Act, provides the means for private-sector employers to provide financial support for public infrastructure projects.

The program allows private-sector employers who will benefit from the infrastructure project to reallocate a portion of the withholding taxes they will pay in the future for repayment of program loans. Participating employers cannot be enrolled in other incentive programs offered by the state.

“This is what ODFA and the Economic Development Pooled Finance program is all about: finding creative ways to deliver financing to support projects in the state of Oklahoma,”  said Oklahoma Finance Authorities President and CEO Michael Davis, citing the port’s rail project as an example. “The Muskogee Port Authority and the Oklahoma Finance Authorities have benefited from a longstanding partnership, and we’re proud to once again partner with them on this project.”

The port authority secured its first loan from the Oklahoma Finance Authorities in 2003 and received other loans since then in support of several economic development projects. The proceeds of the first loan facilitated development of Three Forks Harbor and the River Center.

Brent Kisling, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, said legislative changes to the loan program made in 2019 made it a “viable option to support much needed public infrastructure projects.” Those changes, according the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission, created a third pool of funding available to finance “eligible local government entities for authorized infrastructure projects that will benefit one or more businesses.”

Kisling touted the port authority’s efforts to forge public-private partnerships and leverage “federal, state and local funding sources … to move this vital project forward.” Partnerships with Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the city of Muskogee and City of Muskogee Foundation produced the local matching funds needed to secure the BUILD Grant.

Robinson said the port authority has spent more than $400,000 to acquire land for the project, engineering design and the requisite environmental studies. The authority, he said, “will make up the difference on any remaining expenses.”

While some construction is slated to begin in October, it likely will be December before major undertakings get started. Robinson said it could take up to two years to complete the project due to the requirements of federal contracts.

Source: Muskogee Phoenix

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