Mobile, St. Bernard Ports Win TIGER Grants

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced its latest round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants earlier this month, with a pair of ports on the Gulf Coast receiving funds for projects.

The Alabama State Port Authority (ASPA) was awarded $12.7 million to help create the Southeast Automotive Gateway at the Port of Mobile. Total projected cost for the project is $60 million. The site covers about 57 acres and is currently a derelict bulk material handling facility.

Originally developed in the 1920s, the site formerly handled iron ore bound for a steel manufacturer. Later, the port handled bauxite bound for an alumina refinery as well. The site was even home to a fish meal warehouse at one time. The steel mill shut down in 2002, and the bauxite business closed down not long after. Later in the 2000s, the port imported coal at the facility for a coal-fired power plant in Mississippi. Those coal-fired units, though, shut down about three years ago.

“We’d been looking to repurpose the property,” said Jimmy Lyons, director and CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority. “The idea of building an automobile terminal actually first surfaced in 2002, when we shut it down the first time.”
Of course, the car manufacturing picture in Alabama has changed significantly since the early 2000s, when Mercedes-Benz had the only automotive factory in Alabama. Since then, the state has added both a Honda plant and a Hyundai factory, with a Toyota and Mazda factory scheduled to open in Huntsville, Ala., in 2021.

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That in-state production, along with import possibilities, made a roll-on-roll-off (Ro-Ro) and mobile vehicle processing facility an attractive option for the site.

“We’ve felt the need for an automobile terminal here for many years,” Lyons said. “We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries and a lot of interest in such a facility here. Now, it looks like it will be a reality.”

Lyons said he hopes to see a balance of imports and exports at the facility.
“That’s the plan to try to optimize the facility,” he said.

According to ASPA, the site is located on the Mobile Ship Channel with 40-foot draft and is served by five Class I railroads. The first phase will give the facility a capacity for 139,000 Ro-Ro units, with a fully-built-out capacity of 180,000. Besides automobiles, the site will be able to handle military vehicles, trucks, other rolling stock and heavy-lift cargoes, according to the Department of Transportation.

ASPA plans to enter into a public-private partnership to cover the balance of construction costs.

“We’ve been in the process for about a year of identifying and selecting the private-sector partner that will participate financially in the capital and in exchange get a longterm lease concession on the facility,” Lyons said.
ASPA has identified a preferred bidder and is in the latter stages of negotiations, with an announcement expected in 30 to 60 days, Lyons said. After that, ASPA will release a request for proposals for a program manager, with construction expected to begin by the fourth quarter of 2018. Lyons said the facility could come online later in 2019.

This is the Port of Mobile’s second TIGER grant. Lyons said the port received its first TIGER grant, which helped fund an intermodal container transfer facility, about five years ago.

Chalmette Slip

The other Gulf Coast port-related TIGER grant awarded this year went to the St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District, located in St. Bernard Parish, La., on the Lower Mississippi River just downriver from New Orleans. St. Bernard Port was awarded $13 million for the reconstruction of two wharves within the Chalmette Slip. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the port’s Chalmette Slip is the only calm water, deep-draft slip on the Lower Mississippi River. Developed over a century ago, the slip is divided into six sections, with the two sections targeted by the TIGER grant the last ones in need of modernization.

The total cost for that project is $30 million.

Since the TIGER grant program began, some $5.6 billion has been awarded for more than 420 transportation infrastructure projects around the country. The Consolidated Appropriations Act in 2017 appropriated $500 million for the TIGER grant program to be awarded through September 2020. Grants range in size from $5 million to $25 million. For the fiscal year 2017 TIGER grants, grant funding may not exceed 80 percent of the total cost for an urban project or 100 percent of a rural project.