The Muskogee City-County Port Authority board of directors authorized the execution of a grant acceptance agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grant, known as the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant, totaled $5,789,210 and will go toward rail access improvements at the Port of Muskogee.
Projects include track upgrades, expansion and realignment to meet current Class I railroad safety standards; State Highway 16 highway-rail grade crossing modernization; and approximately 11,900 feet of additional track to expand the capacity of the Port’s existing marshalling yard.
The funding, which requires an equal local match, will enhance rail infrastructure to better accommodate the track geometry required by the interchanging railroad, which uses six-axle locomotives, allowing the Port to open its facility to a large array of train configurations from Class I railroads.
“This is great news for Muskogee and the Port,” said port director Scott Robinson. “Modern rail access for manifest and unit train service will ensure the continued growth and success of the Port for years to come.”
Last month, the Port Authority became the first applicant in the state to be approved for a $2.1 million Economic Development Pooled Finance loan from the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority (ODFA) to help with financing the remaining balance of local matching funds required for the project.
“That loan was a critical part of being able to make this project happen,” said Robinson. “The Pooled Finance program is one of the most creative public-private partnership programs I’ve ever heard of.”
Through the program, which was established in 2009 by the Oklahoma Community Economic Development Pooled Finance Act, private employers can authorize the reallocation of a portion of their future withholding taxes for the repayment of financing needed to support public infrastructure projects. The participating employer must be a beneficiary of the proposed improvements and cannot be enrolled in other state incentive programs.
Participating private beneficiaries of the Port rail project include: Union-Pacific Railroad, Bruce Oakley, Inc., Paragon Industries and Metals USA.
“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, and the rail project at the Port of Muskogee is a great example of that,” said Michael Davis, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Finance Authorities. “The Muskogee Port Authority and the Oklahoma Finance Authorities have benefited from a long-standing partnership, and we’re proud to once again partner with them on this project.”
The Port Authority received their first loan from the Oklahoma Finance Authorities in 2003 to facilitate the development of Three Forks Harbor and the River Center and has received several loans since then in support of various economic development projects.
Debt is issued by ODFA to finance a project must first receive approval from the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
“We’re pleased that the changes adopted by the Legislature last year has made this program a viable option to support much needed public infrastructure projects, like the Port of Muskogee rail project. This program will allow Muskogee to retain its existing industrial base, support expansions by existing industry, and increase their ability to attract new industry, all of which will bring private investment and quality jobs to the community and to the state” said Brent Kisling, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. “The Muskogee City-County Port Authority should be lauded for the various partnerships they have leveraged and the federal, state and local funding sources they have utilized to move this vital project forward.”
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the City of Muskogee and the City of Muskogee Foundation have also committed funding for the $11.58 million project. ODOT authorized $732,000 for the project. In May 2019, voters approved up to $500,000 of the city’s CIP tax revenues be reserved for the project, and the City of Muskogee Foundation has committed up to $3 million in grant funding.
The Port Authority has already spent more than $400,000 in land acquisition, engineering designs, and environmental studies”, said Robinson, “and we will make up the difference on any remaining expenses.”
“Construction could be completed in six to nine months, but with all of the things a federal contract requires I think it’s more likely to be completed within two years.”