Georgia Ports’ Tune Is A Broken Record

This week’s Courier Herald column:

Last week the Georgia Ports Authority held its annual State of the Ports briefing in Savannah. It’s an annual banquet that fills the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center to capacity with the state’s elected officials and business leaders. The program is similar each year and can usually be subtitled “broken record”. Georgia’s ports have become so accustomed to record breaking growth that the feats required to sustain the pace have begun to look routine.

The metrics usually used to describe the growth are those of volume and space. For container traffic – the shipping containers that come in on ships and leave the port on a truck or train – the unit of measurement is TEUs. That stands for “twenty-foot equivalent unit”.

Last year the port saw a record 4.2 million TEUs through its gates. That’s an 8.4% increase over the prior year, and continuing a pace of growth in or above the 7% annual growth rate. While 7% doesn’t sound extreme, this is the rate that compounds into double every decade. Because major infrastructure projects often require a long planning horizon and additional time to permit and construct, it’s important to understand the scale of numbers we’re talking about here and the impact on Georgia’s economy and infrastructure.

The current capacity of the Port of Savannah is 5.5 Million TEUs. At a 7% annual growth rate, the Port would hit this capacity in just four years. With the ports driving many of the economic development projects throughout the state – especially the ones outside of metro Atlanta – it’s hard to imagine that state leaders want to see the port divert traffic and the jobs generated to other ports in other states.

That’s not going to happen. The Ports Authority continues to find ways to squeeze additional capacity out of the existing footprint while making strategic incremental expansions. This brings us to this year’s headline. The Port of Savannah will be embarking on yet another ten-year plan to reinvest $2.5 Billion into the facilities to increase capacity to 8 Million TEUs.

The plan brings to focus the key measurement that has been the success of the port. While the dollars generated come from volume and the capital invested is in both space and equipment, the value to the Port’s customers is time.

Much of the focus on the expansion has been on the dredging of the harbor to accommodate larger ships. That represents increased efficiency as more TEU’s can be turned per ship docking. The port also continues to reinvest in rail capacity, giving the port the ability to get containers on to trains quicker. The establishment of “inland ports” with improved direct rail service further gets goods from the ship to the consumer faster.

A similar focus has been placed on the alignment and capacity of the gates used by trucks, increasing the efficiency of ingress and egress. Trucks now have options for direct access to either I-16 or I-95 to get them on their way faster.

While Georgia customers of the port will benefit from the faster operations, the Port is indeed one of national significance. The Port of Savannah currently handles 8.5% of all of America’s containerized cargo and accounts for 10% of all exports. Trade in Savannah is a two-way street.

To continue the growth, the goal is to cut the time of goods from ship to customer again, making Savannah the preferred port for customers in Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati. Every hour that can be cut along the way opens up Savannah as a port to more customers further inland.

And finally, the Ports Authority may help Georgia leaders put to rest a controversy over the name of the bridge that spans the Savannah River. While never officially named by GDOT, the “new” Talmadge Bridge has seen proposals to be named after Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low.

It turns out that calling it the Low Bridge is fitting. It’s not tall enough to allow the largest of vessels to call on the port once the ship channel is fully dredged. It must be replaced soon with a new bridge or tunnel, one that will likely have a new name.

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Gregs
Gregs

If “the” bridge is replaced I hope the state goes for a first class design befitting the tourist mecca that is Savannah/Hilton Head.

armanidog
armanidog
Ellynn
Ellynn

Not one of those bridges is a structure that could go to a height of most likely 200′ clearance from a low level approach.

armanidog
armanidog

I was showing design concepts. Any one of those bridges could be expanded and raised up. I like the one that splits into a circle.

Gregs
Gregs

Savannah is steeped in history so it would be nice to have bridge that reflected that reality. I’ve biked across the Golden Gate bridge a few times and it was a great experience. The current bridge is being used to host a road race but they have to close the bridge to do it. It would be nice if the new bridge could accomodate bike and pedestrian trafic because it offers a great view coming into Savannah. A great design would add so much to the experience of historic district and River Street. I would love to see it lighted… Read more »

Mr. Bear
Mr. Bear

“The establishment of “inland ports” with improved direct rail service further gets goods from the ship to the consumer faster.” This statement doesn’t completely illustrate just how important the inland ports will prove to be. Ships arriving at Savannah offload their containers, which are then loaded onto railroad container flats. These flats then travel by railroad to the inland ports at Cordele and near Cartersville. The containers are then loaded onto tractor trailer trucks for the final delivery. Another inland port is rumored to be in development for NE Georgia, presumably on the Norfolk Southern’s Crescent main line. Note that… Read more »

Ellynn
Ellynn

Can the inland ports switch the container to routes by rail into the Ohio Valley and Chicago?

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

“Inland Port” is simply a name applied to state-owned intermodal terminal associated primarily with a port. There are four railroad owned intermodal terminals in Atlanta; CSXT’s Fairburn and Hulsry, and NS’ Inman and Whittaker. These terminals handle more port traffic than inland ports. An distinction is that all or a large fraction of traffic to or from a port, while intermodal terminals typically hand one railroad end of a domestic truck-railroad-truck movement.

Ellynn
Ellynn

I get the concept of what inland ports are and co do. Not all are end point transfers. Thus my question.

Mr. Bear
Mr. Bear

The strict answer is “yes”, but in the larger sense, the container would have been part of a train which was destined for Cincinnati or Chicago anyway. The “train” moves as a unit of carrying cars which have the containers as loads. We’re seeing the end of what is termed “loose-car” railroading, where individual cars show up at a terminal, are switched and then formed into new trains of cars destined for another city. Now, the “train” is a series of container carrying flat cars with individual container loads. In this way, the train goes from, say, Savannah to Chicago,… Read more »