Learn how the diverse transportation network in Jefferson County contributes to the economic well-being of the area.
Jefferson County offers a robust transportation network that keeps getting better. Following two years of construction to widen University Drive to five lanes, completion of the $6.7 million project in June 2015 inspired Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth to term the thoroughfare as “a 21st century gateway to our city.” The widening of University Drive (U.S. Highway 79B) for 1.62 miles between Oliver Road and Martha Mitchell Expressway straightened a dangerous curve north of West Pullen Avenue, and it gives motorists a convenient gateway into the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. David Henning, a district engineer with the Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Department, says the improved access to the UAPB campus was important because many cities grow around a university. “Highway 79 also gets a lot of traffic coming from Stuttgart north of the Arkansas River, with truck shipments heading south and sometimes mixing with university traffic,” Henning says. “The ease of congestion and safety upgrades on University Drive now add to the overall driving experience of all motorists.” Henning says other Jefferson County road infrastructure projects include the ongoing rehabilitation of Interstate 530, along with some upgrades to four U.S. highways running through the region. “Within the next three years or so, the interstate and main roads will be rehabilitated up to current-day standards,” he says. “We will have a strong, efficient transportation system in place, which will be attractive for any distribution industries thinking of locating in Jefferson County.”
Air of Distinction
Jefferson County’s central U.S. location and proximity to major markets benefit area businesses with partners, suppliers and customers throughout the country and around the world. Other transportation assets include Class I rail service provided by BNSF, along with Union Pacific, which operates an electronic switching yard in Pine Bluff. The area also has a general aviation facility, Pine Bluff Regional Airport-Grider Field, that accommodates personal, military and corporate aircraft. Major employers that use Pine Bluff Regional include Brookshire’s, Dollar General, Lowe’s, Tractor Supply, Tyson, U.S. Steel and Walmart. Jefferson County residents seeking commercial air service are only a 40-minute drive to Bill & Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock. “Grider Field is a major asset to Pine Bluff and Jefferson County, with many government agencies and employers in southeast Arkansas using our airport for official business,” says Doug Hale, Pine Bluff Regional Airport manager. “It’s been a while since an economic study was conducted, but I would say that our airport provides an annual economic impact of about $10 million to this region.”
Also contributing to the overall economy of Jefferson County is the Port of Pine Bluff with its public terminal facility, which is operated by Kansas-based Watco Terminal & Port Services and is fully intermodal with the ability to transfer most commodities to or from barges, rail cars and trucks. The port’s public terminal in the Harbor Industrial District is situated on a slackwater harbor along the Arkansas River with little flow fluctuation, making it ideal for barge cargo transfer. “We handle commodities such as roll paper, all grains, fertilizer, sand, stone, coil steel, coil wire rod, vermiculite, cottonseed, all shapes of structural steel and more,” says Marc Massoglia, Watco Terminal & Port Services senior marketing manager. “The port’s terminal is a valuable asset for the community and has served as an industry incubator for companies needing to move large quantities of raw materials. The Port of Pine Bluff is the reason why many industries are doing business in Jefferson County today.” Conducting successful business using port facilities are companies like Bentrei Fertilizer, Evergreen Packaging, Kiswire and The Strong Company, and Massoglia says several recent monetary investments by Watco are making the port and its public terminal even better. “In 2015, more than $300,000 was invested to renovate an on-site fertilizer building to better serve the fertilizer industry for years to come, and additional renovations under review include a new $290,000 roof for the main flat storage building, and a $40,000 new roof for the main office,” he says. “As for private investments, Southwind Milling is currently constructing a rice mill on the harbor, and Watco is assisting them with transportation logistics to ship some of their finished product to South America.”