The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet awarded the Owensboro Riverport Authority roughly $135,000 in matching improvement grants this week, counting Owensboro among the largest recipients statewide with more than a quarter of the total yearly allocations.
Riverport Authority President and CEO Brian Wright said two local Riverport Improvement Grants will go toward replacing deteriorating crossties and switches along the outer portion of the facility's rail loop and to purchase a skid steer that will transport fertilizer on barges.
"We knew going into the demands associated with our new frame business that we needed to keep our loop reliable long-term, so we couldn’t take any risks," Wright said Thursday. "CSX (Corp.) can come in and inspect you any day, and they will shut you down if they see risks with gauging or rail ties."
The riverport is only now beginning to implement a massive auto frame deal with nearby Metalsa Inc. that will make it the primary outbound shipment location for the body of Jeep's new Renegade model of SUV-truck crossover. Construction on a new inner loop finished earlier this year, but officials there expect the entire rail facility will reach near-capacity once Chrysler's Toldedo, Ohio, plant ramps up production.
ORA will replace 575 deteriorated crossties and 60 switchties in order to maintain reliability and rail access.
The skid steer will transport mainly fertilizer, which Wright said is particularly corrosive to the electrical and mechanical equipment on board.
Those types of improvements statewide, which ranged from railroad repairs and maintenance to the purchase of new equipment to help serve customers, are a relatively new advancement in the state program. Gov. Matt Bevin broadened the improvement program last year to include capital projects because its predecessor, which allocated funds for dredging and maintenance access, was underutilized.
"We used to see very few applications, and the cabinet would struggle to allocate the entire $500,000 in funding," said Wright, who sits on the Water Transportation Advisory Board. "Now we're utilizing the full funding."
Last year the cabinet saw more than $1 million in funding requests.
"From roadways to riverports, investing in all modes of transportation keeps Kentucky moving and supports our growing economy," said KYTC Secretary Greg Thomas. "We're pleased to award these grants that will fund key improvements at six public riverports to enhance operations for the safe transportation of freight."
ORA forwent another grant that would have paved access to Warehouse 4 so that the Louisville-Jefferson County Riverport Authority could replace nearly 2,000 railroad crossties of its own.
Austin Ramsey, 270-691-7302, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @austinrramsey