Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal Says State’s Port Can Be No. 1 on East Coast

Ty Wright/Bloomberg News

Gov. Nathan Deal kicked off the 2016 Georgia Foreign Trade Conference on Feb. 8 with high praise for the Georgia Ports Authority and outgoing Director Curtis Foltz.

“For 12 years, he’s done a great job in raising the value of the port, increasing its worth to the state and literally putting the Port of Savannah on the world map,” Deal said, noting that 2015 was another record-breaking year for GPA.

“From total tonnage and container tonnage to container volume and intermodal freight, 2015 pushed the bar even higher,” Deal said. “Container volumes grew an astounding 17% to a record 3.7 million TEUs.

“Overall, the Ports Authority has enjoyed 28 consecutive months of year-over-year growth and will continue to grow as we move through this year,” Deal told maritime executives from around the country.

“Ours is the No. 2 container port on the East Coast, after the Port of New York and New Jersey, and if it continues to grow in the fashion it has recently, I believe it may eventually be No. 1,” he said.

For its part, Deal said, Georgia’s Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan includes the widening of Interstate 16 between I-516 and I-95 — a heavy truck corridor into and out of the ports — as well as the establishment of truck-only lanes on I-75 from Macon to Atlanta.

And the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway will be complete by the end of this year, providing direct access into the port from the interstate and taking trucks off secondary roads.

Port growth is expected to ramp up with the opening this year of the expanded Panama Canal, making the ports’ deepening project even more critical, he said.

“We as a state made the commitment to do our part in funding this major project, and over the last three years, we’ve put in some $266 million, which is the state’s portion,” Deal said. “We’ve led the way. Now we’re going to continue to insist the federal government live up to its end of the bargain.

“I’m saying we need $90 million from appropriations in this next federal budget cycle in order to keep this project on track and on schedule. I recognize that there are many ways to come up with that $90 million, and I really don’t expect it to be in the president’s upcoming budget announcement.

“But I do expect that the Corps of Engineers will have money allocated in a bucket for those construction projects that are shovel-ready. We’re more than shovel ready, we’re dredging. We should be at — or very near — the top of that list,” Deal said, looking into the audience to find Brig. Gen. C. David Turner, commander of the South Atlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Turner said the remainder of the corps’ construction allocations for fiscal 2016 will be released simultaneously.

In the keynote address, Oscar Bazán, executive vice president of planning and business development for the Panama Canal Authority, said the multibillion-dollar canal expansion was 96% done as of the end of December.

“Right now, we’re looking at eight to 10 weeks to completion,” Bazán said. “We expect to begin vessel testing around the end of April or beginning of May and open the new locks to commercial traffic early in the second half of the year.”