The Port of Muskogee, a regional port along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System in Muskogee County, Okla., is the recipient of a $3 million out-of-cycle economic development grant from the City of Muskogee Foundation.
According to the Muskogee Phoenix, the grant funding will be used to match federal transportation funds made available for a railroad modernization project at the Port.
The grant provides just more than half of the nearly $5.79 million required by the Muskogee City-County Port Authority to pay its share of the $11.58 million project, which entails improvements to track geometry leading into the port and an expansion of the facility’s marshaling yard.
Currently, local news reports state that access at the port is limited to four-axle locomotives because the arc of the railroad tracks entering the port is too narrow to carry anything larger. Officials noted that six-axle locomotives have become the industry standard, while the smaller locomotives are being phased out.
Port Director Scott Robinson told local news outlets that both aspects of the port’s rail services are required to facilitate the port’s future viability and long-term growth. Robinson also said rail access and service at the Port of Muskogee will be among the best offered at any public or private port along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System upon the project’s completion.
“All of the Class I railroads are phasing out four-axle locomotives in favor of six-axle locomotives,” Robinson said in a statement. “There is a time coming — sooner rather than later — when rail traffic may not come to the port because because they can’t deliver the cars from the main line.”
In the past, the port authority has attempted to secure federal transportation funding for the project three times through another transportation grant program. The project earned recognition from U.S. transportation officials, but the requests were still rejected due to the program’s limited availability of funds, local news reports said.
The port said it became aware in December of 2018 that federal funds would be made available through a new program that was approved in 2018. Robinson also said the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has pledged to contribute about $732,000 toward the project, with Muskogee city councilors pledging another $500,000 that was included in the proposed renewal of a capital improvements sales tax extension that requires voter approval.
Robinson stated that the port authority has guaranteed its share of the match will be covered somehow and that it was always believed that “the foundation would be an important partner in that match.”
According to the port’s website, Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad both offer mainline service to Muskogee’s largest industrial parks, including the Port of Muskogee.