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U.S. Transportation Secretary talks about $6 million for Arkansas port project

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks via Zoom Wednesday with KUAR's Daniel Breen.
U.S. Department of Transportation / KUAR News
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks via Zoom Wednesday with KUAR's Daniel Breen.

The latest round of funding from the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes support for improving infrastructure at ports across the country, including in Arkansas.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced last week it is dedicating $6.4 million for improvements at the port along the Mississippi River in Helena-West Helena.

In an interview with KUAR News, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said smaller ports are crucial to the country’s overall logistics networks.

“Not only are we funding improvements to the big container terminals… we’re also making sure that places like the ports along the Mississippi River, we’re funding the improvements they need to connect the rest of the country to these very important shipping networks that are efficient, cost-effective and one of the cleanest ways, pound-for-pound, to move a ton of goods,” Buttigieg said.

Arkansas is one of 22 states and one U.S. territory to receive part of over $700 million in funding from the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Port Infrastructure Development Program. One of 41 projects across the country selected for grant funding, the Helena Harbor Transportation Enhancement Development Project will build a new rail link and upgrade fire suppression systems.

Buttigieg says the investment will hopefully drive down the cost of shipping goods while overall improving performance.

“In the long run, any investment in the efficiency of our supply chains is also an investment in the fight against inflation. It’s not just the physical cost of the inputs, it’s the cost of moving them around that’s helped to create a lot of upward pressure on prices in recent months,” Buttigieg said.

The investment is needed, he says, to help alleviate pressures from inflation, supply chain issues and climate change, referencing the recent shutdown of barge traffic along the Mississippi River because of drought-induced low water levels.

“That’s one of the things that we’re sometimes able to address with something like a more fixed crane technology," Buttigieg said. "Some of the effects are inevitable, but some of them can be better managed if you have better technology and equipment to be more resilient.”

Buttigieg says it’s one of many projects in the Natural State benefitting from the Biden administration’s infrastructure law.

“Not just the $6.4 million headed to Helena for the port there, but a $24 million grant going to Conway to help with a number of projects there that will help with the business vitality of the community, but also pedestrian safety, sidewalks, bridges, cycle tracks, really excited about that project,” Buttigieg said.

Along with ports, Buttigieg says Arkansas will receive $3.9 billion from the infrastructure law solely for improvements to roads and bridges.

Daniel Breen is News Director for Little Rock Public Radio.