Metro traffic congestion to be eased as seaport cargo shifts from truck to rail

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the location of the cargo facility.

By David Pendered

Metro Atlanta commuters can find solace in a factoid nestled in a report released Thursday by the Georgia Ports Authority. Some 50,000 trucks a year are to be removed from the region’s highways once an inland port served by rail opens next year in Chatsworth, officials say.

The number of truck trips that are eliminated is likely to rise in the future.

CSX rail is to connect a cargo facility in Chatsworth, located north of Marietta, with the Port of Savannah. As a result, at least 50,000 trucks a year are not expected to travel metro highways. The route stretches from Chatsworth to Atlanta, to Augusta, to Savannah. Credit:

The inland cargo transfer yard that’s to open in 2018 is poised to help handle increasing amounts of cargo that’s to be diverted from highways to the CSX railroad. This will become more significant as the amount of cargo increases as Savannah handles the huge container ships built to use the expanded Panama Canal.

Savannah’s reach as a seaport could extend into the Mississippi Valley, according to some forecasts. Such a service district likely would spur big increases in the number of imported containers and those headed for export.

This increased reliance on rail addresses concerns raised in the past by board members of GRTA. GRTA is the state agency that advises on mobility and air quality in metro Atlanta. GRTA also advises on the Xpress commuter buses that serve 12 metro counties.

In particular, GRTA board member J.T. Williams has raised the issue that highways in metro Atlanta likely are to become more burdened as the port spurs an uptick in truck movements. The additional vehicles could worsen mobility and air quality.

If the inland port takes just 50,000 trucks a year of the roads, an average of 137 trucks a day that won’t be passing through metro Atlanta on I-285 and the I-75 corridor, according to a quick calculation of the port’s figures. The number presumes trucks travel each day of the year.

The actual number of trucks that are diverted could be significantly higher.

That’s because shippers sometimes have to send a truck into metro Atlanta to retrieve a container to carry the cargo. Sometimes shippers have to send a truck all the way to the Savannah port to retrieve a container.

Afternoon rush-hou traffic backs up on I-285 beneath the Ga. 400 overpass. Credit: David Pendered

Traffic congestion along I-285, seen here from the Ga. 400 overpass, is expected to ease in 2018, as rail begins transporting more cargo to and from the Port of Savannah. File/Credit: David Pendered

In each situation, a truck passes through the region to pick up a container; the truck passes through the region to deliver the container; the truck passes through a third time en route to the seaport.

The Georgia Ports Authority broke ground this year on the Appalachian Regional Port, in Chatsworth. Chatsworth is in Murray County, about 15 miles east of Dalton.

Here are highlights of the Georgia Ports Authority forecast about the Dalton cargo handling facility. The facility:

  • “Expands GPA’s reach into Tennessee, Northeast Alabama and parts of Kentucky.
  • “Will cut Atlanta truck traffic by 50,000 trips per year;
  • “Each container moved by the Appalachian Regional Port will offset 355 truck miles, reducing 8 million miles in the first year;
  • “Trucks will travel shorter distances and make less frequent trips, while still providing a vital gateway for U.S. manufacturers in global markets.”

A sister facility in Cordele is providing similar relief for roadways in South Georgia. Port officials on Friday released a report that shows shippers are using it to reach markets from South Georgia to the Florida Panhandle, Alabama and Mississippi.

The Cordele facility is served by two short lines that travel to and from the port in Savannah, Heart of Georgia and Georgia Central. The facility is owned by the Crisp County Development Authority.

The facility handled a total of nearly 30,000 containers in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the report. The cargo includes 10,000 containers headed to Savannah for export, and 8,300 containers that were imported via the port.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    David, this facility is 15 miles east of Dalton, not west. The vast majority of the trucks will clog local roads to Dalton where they can enter I75. And a portion of those will head back to Atlanta.
    There is no free lunch.Report

  2. David Pendered
    David Pendered says:

    Thank you for correcting the location.
    Yes, the facility is located east of Dalton. My mental lapse caused the error. The text has been corrected.
    Best regards,

  3. writes_of_weigh says:

    Mr. Pendered, there may be a slight flaw in your suggestion(and that of the GADoT, GAPorts Authority) of traffic relief, as earlier this year there was a “management” kerflufle at CSX, which among other considerations, has led to the carrier(and it’s new precision railroading chief E.H. Harrison) being “summoned” to Washington, D.C. to explain to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board why they had received hundreds of complaints regarding a systemic train operations (service) “meltdown”, since implementation of his precision. To wit, CSX a few years ago also opened a “regional” intermodal facility in North Baltimore Ohio and has just announced that it is now closing, and a planned similar facility near Rocky Mount, N.C. (co-incidentally on their current Atlanta-Northeast U.S. service lane) may be postponed or cancelled, There is also a rumour that CSX’s Atlanta train dispatching center may be moving to Jacksonville very shortly, even though when prior CSX managers consolidated those same dispatching functions from across their network, a decision was made a few years thereafter, that such a positioning of critical network assets so close to a hurricane prone peninsular, became instantly inadvisable.
    I might suggest to not count on this traffic relief before it “precisely hatches?”Report

    • Burroughston Broch says:

      I suggest we wait a year until the Murray County facility opens and then revisit this subject. CSX rightly claims it will need time to implement Harrison’s changes, and Harrison’s changes have been proved in Canada.Report


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