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Savannah port handles more cargo as GDOT aims to facilitate access to, from port

Containers loaded with consumer goods are stored at the Savannah wharves until they are loaded onto tractor-trailers or railroad cars. Credit: GPA

By David Pendered

The state port in Savannah handled a significant increase in freight in 2015, compared to 2014, and is purchasing four new cranes to expand its ability to move cargo. State transportation officials are working to respond to a demand for mobility to and from the port.

Containers are transferred to rail cars at the Savannah port's Chatham Rail Intermodal Facility. File/Credit: GPA

Containers are transferred to rail cars at the Savannah port’s Chatham Rail Intermodal Facility. File/Credit: GPA

The increase in port-related business, and its implications for road and rail traffic, has caused the Georgia Department of Transportation to focus resources toward helping carriers move freight to and from the Savannah port, according to Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry.

At a Jan. 28 presentation to the Georgia House Transportation Committee, McMurry responded to a question from Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway). Williams asked about the status of a plan to relieve congestion at the busy intersection of I-16 and I-95.

McMurry noted that Georgia has a statewide freight logistics plan and said of the intersection near Savannah:

  • “We’re doing design work now, and will advance [the project] in the next few years as a design/build. We’ll do the intersection and add a lane. Now we’re moving forward with the design/build finance piece.”

Two points worth noting:

  • GDOT has determined that the design/build approach results in a quicker delivery of a roadway project than the previous approach. The prior method required engineering designs to be complete before the first shovel of earth could be turned. Now, work can begin as engineers work out details.
  • Georgia Ports Authority is administratively attached to the Department of Economic Development, not GDOT. GDOT’s assigned role with the Savannah port is to handle dredge materials from the harbor deepening, according to Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed FY 2017, which would take effect July 1.

Returning to the annual review of port activity, Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said the increase in 2015 was both organic and the result of diversions to Savannah from west coast ports.

“The expansion was fueled in part by heightened demand in the U.S. Southeast, Savannah’s logistical advantages drawing new customers to Georgia, and cargo diverted from the west coast,” Foltz said in a statement released after the Jan. 25 meeting of the board that oversees GPA.

The increase in the amount of freight handled was to be expected, given the monthly updates throughout 2015. But the final figures are of note.

The Savannah port marked an 11.7 percent increase in the number of containers handled by the port, in figures that compare calendar 2015 to 2014.

This is an increase of 391,356 containers handled in Savannah in 2015, compared to the number handled in 2014. Containers are defined as 20-foot equivalent container units. These are the containers commonly transferred from a ship to a truck trailer or railroad vehicle.

The figure for 2015 represents an all-time high of 3.73 million containers handled by Savannah’s freight handlers.

The increase in business confirmed plans by the board that oversees the Georgia Ports Authority to add the additional cranes. The board voted to buy four cranes. This is a notable decision, given that four cranes are to be added to the Savannah port this year.

The purchase order means that Savannah’s Garden City Terminal is to have 30 cranes once the last order is installed, in Spring 2018. GPA’s Focus 2026 Capital Plan calls for the terminal to have 34 cranes.

The terminal now has 22 cranes. Four more are to be installed this year, bringing the number to 26. The number will be 30 when the four crane orders authorized this month are installed in 2018.

“With today’s decision, the Georgia Ports Authority will make a $47 million investment in order to maintain the highest level of service for port customers,” Foltz said in the statement. “Even before the new cranes arrive, Savannah has more cranes on its nearly two-mile long dock than any other single terminal in North America.”

The cranes that were authorized to be purchased this month speak to the very nature of the international trade the port is intended to serve.

The cranes are to be designed by Konecranes of Finland and assembled in Nantong, China, according to the GPA statement that says each crane, “can reach across vessels 22 containers wide and lift cargo weighing up to 72 tons to a height of 152 feet above the dock. Each crane weighs 1,388 tons and measures 433 feet wide and 185 feet tall.”

David Pendered

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.


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