By David Pendered
The Port of Savannah on Wednesday received a $44 million federal grant to expand rail access to and from the port. The funding promotes an objective to get trains in and out of the port more quickly, increasing Savannah’s competitive edge over other seaports.
Rail shipments presently account for 18 percent of the cargo handled at the port’s Garden City Terminal. The Georgia Ports Authority has focused for years improving rail access to enable even more cargo to be handled by rail freight.
One recent example of GPA’s effort to address that is a $6.5 million rail expansion project completed in 2012. It cut six hours in round-trip train movements to Atlanta, according to a statement at the time.
Some 6,000 feet of rail was installed in the port, which eliminated the need for trains to loop through Garden City to enter the port from the east. The additional track meant trains can enter and exit the port from the west. It eliminated 21 at-grade rail crossings. In all, the Savannah port has 46,921 linear feet of rail – almost nine miles.
The grant announced Wednesday will help pay for GPA’s planned $128 million, five-year multi-modal improvement plan.
“Investments such as this, and the related inland rail facilities throughout Georgia, will help shift more containers from truck to rail, allowing greater efficiency and reduced highway congestion,” GPA board Chairman Jimmy Allgood said in a statement. “Rail cargo will play an important role in our future, not only increasing our capacity, but opening up new markets for Georgia’s ports.”
“This transformative project will not only increase rail capacity and velocity at the Garden City Container Terminal, but will also provide substantial benefits to surrounding communities by improving public safety, reducing environmental impacts and avoiding commuter traffic,” GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said in a statement.
The federal funding came through the federal transportation budget Congress approved in December 2015. It was the first long-term transportation budget to be approved in 10 years. Prior funding bills had been approved for a short-term basis.
Freight movement was specifically addressed in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or “FAST Act.” For the first time, the federal government is providing a dedicated source of funding for freight projects, including multi-modal, according to a fact sheet posted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Members of Georgia’s congressional delegation trumpeted the funding they helped secure from the FAST Act for the port.
“I was pleased to support the FAST Act last year because the Port of Savannah and other projects around the state deserve the stability of a long-term plan from the federal government for transportation infrastructure improvements,” U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) said in a statement.
“Last year, I was proud to support the FAST Act because Georgia needs a long-term plan from the federal government to support urgently needed transportation infrastructure improvements,” U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, (R-Ga.) said in a statement. “Local commuters and businesses in the Savannah area will also benefit greatly from the enhanced movement of maritime cargo and improved flood control.”
“Moving forward, the Savannah Port needs to increase and improve infrastructure surrounding the port,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said in a statement. “With the deepening of the Panama Canal it is critical that there are adequate transportation corridors around the Port of Savannah to accommodate increased activity.”