Port of Savannah Expansion Plans Moving Full Speed Ahead
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SAVANNAH, Ga. — While cargo volume at ports on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts is down, officials at the Georgia Ports Authority and the sprawling Port of Savannah say now is the perfect time to ramp up their nearly $2 billion expansion plan.
Officials told Transport Topics during a tour of the port for the Transportation Marketing & Sales Association’s Elevate Conference on June 13 that the investments they’re making now are forward-looking to 2035, when the port will have the capacity to process more than 10 million twenty-foot-equivalent containers annually, a nearly 75% increase over the record-setting 5.8 million it moved in 2022.
“At the Georgia Ports Authority, we plan our infrastructure priorities 10 years in advance — where we want to devote our resources to grow capacity for our customers,” said Griff Lynch, executive director of Georgia Ports Authority. “Even though the nation’s economy is facing headwinds, it is important to use this lull in business to prepare for the next upswing.”
The Georgia Ports Authority is a government agency operating, in addition to Savannah, four facilities in every corner of the state, and another is in the planning stages.
The first phase of the Savannah 10-year upgrade project is nearly complete, and on track to be operational by July. The expansion of Container Berth One will increase the port’s capacity by 1.5 million containers, and allow the port’s workers to simultaneously serve seven ships, including the largest ships now in operation and carrying more than 16,000 TEUs.
A low-angle view of a massive container crane removing containers from a ship. (Dan Ronan/Transport Topics)
The Garden City Terminal West expansion is also underway and will add another 1 million TEUs and will be completed in stages by 2024. In addition, 15 electric, rubber-tire gantry cranes will be added, bringing to 38 the total number of cranes scheduled to be in operation, once the expansion is complete.
The other expansion plans include the Colonel’s Island Terminal in Brunswick, which is undergoing a $250 million, 100-acre facelift. It already is the second-busiest facility in the nation for roll-on/roll-off cargo, including vehicles manufactured by most of the major car and truck makers. The additional warehouse and acreage additions will increase the roll on/roll off capacity from 1.2 million to 1.4 million vehicles annually.
A container is transported through the port to its next destination. (Dan Ronan/Transport Topics)
The 42-acre Appalachian Regional Port in far northwest Georgia is already connected to Savannah by a direct, 388-mile CSX rail line, and for truck traffic its location is near Interstate 75.
In northeast Georgia, the port authority is now developing a 104-acre facility with a Norfolk Southern rail connection to Savannah and direct truck access to I-95 and a 20-mile drive to I-85. This project recently received National Environmental Policy Act approval and has been awarded a nearly $47 million grant to start initial construction in July. Plans call for it to be finished by the summer of 2026.
The 67-acre Port Bainbridge in southwest Georgia on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Waterway or Tri-Rivers system handles predominantly dry bulk items.
A west-central Georgia inland port is also likely to be developed, especially as Georgia and Alabama continue to become more prominent with automobile manufacturing.
As more port cargo is shifted from the West Coast to East Coast, and with the Georgia Port Authority adding capacity throughout the state, its facilities now handle nearly one out of eight TEUs in the United States.
Lynch said recently at an address to the Georgia Foreign Trade Conference he believes the West-to-East changes will be permanent because the South is seeing a surge of manufacturing and population growth. He points to Hyundai’s 2022 announcement it is building a $5.5 billion electric vehicle plant less than an hour drive from the Savannah port.
“The population of the U.S. Southeast is growing faster than any other region of the country, and manufacturers are flocking to the area’s business-friendly states,” he said. “The South is seeing increased consumer demand, which translates into higher port volumes.”
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