When completed, the port is expected to bring 1,700 jobs to the region and retain 2,293 related jobs, according to an economic study performed by the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University.
The money comes from the competitive TIGER II (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant, which the port authority applied for in August. These federal grants are authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, sometimes referred to as the "stimulus bill."
U.S. Rep. John Tanner made the announcement after U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood notified him of the award.
Nobody was probably happier to hear the news than Northwest Tennessee Port Authority Chairman Jimmy Williamson.
"It has been a long time coming and it's here, and I'm just as pleased as I can be," said Williamson. "It's just a great day for Northwest Tennessee and this will bring economic activity to our area of the state that we've been lacking. This will make the port operational."
He added that they are ready to start construction on the port as soon as they find out how the money will be administered. The project would immediately bring 200 construction jobs to the area.
"It will take about 18 months to complete, but the economic impact will be immediate," said Williamson.
State Sen. Roy Herron joined Tanner while the news was delivered and said the port's progress and the thousands of private-sector jobs it will create are a testament to what can be accomplished when everyone works together on the common economic interests of the region.
"I am proud to be working with leaders on both sides of the aisle, local officials and business leaders on the Northwest Tennessee Port and Industrial Park, a huge boost to our congressional district's economic recovery," said Herron, who has been a champion of the project as a part-time citizen legislator. "Congressman Tanner is to be commended for leading the efforts on this important project along with Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, and our Republican U.S. Senators."
State Rep. Judy Barker expressed delight about the news and looked forward to seeing the region prosper.
"This is just wonderful news for workers in northwest Tennessee," said Barker, who serves on the House Transportation Committee and Rural Roads Subcommittee. "I am glad that the port authority's hard work is paying off and that our area will have thousands of new jobs because of this grant. I especially want to thank Congressman Tanner for being a leader on this for so many years."
The port is a slack-water harbor, where a steady level of still water makes for easier cargo loading and unloading than in parts of the river with fast-moving currents. The site is also near other important shipping routes:
* Approximately 25 miles from Interstate 155, which has direct connections to I-40, I-55, I-24 and Purchase Parkway
* Approximately 28 miles from future route of I-69, which will itself serve 17 of the nation's top 25 seaports
* Approximately 30 miles from railroad lines connecting Canada to the Gulf of Mexico
Although the application was for $20 million, Williamson said Bredesen placed $4 million for a match for the upcoming budget and they will work to get the remainder money.
"I want to thank Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, Governor Phil Bredesen and his administration, State Senator Roy Herron, State Representative Judy Barker and local elected and business leaders for their hard work," said Tanner. "By working together, we have made this project a reality."
Williamson said a lot of credit also goes to Forcum-Lannom, John Lannom and his staff and Hal Boyd.
"They put in untold hours on this project without charging us anything," said Williamson.
The Department of Transportation will officially announce the award on Oct. 20.