At the Georgia Ports Authority board meeting, Executive Director Griff Lynch reported the GPA achieved an August record of 330,846 twenty-foot equivalent container units, a robust increase of 5% compared to August 2015.
“August container unit volumes were the third highest in the Authority’s history, behind April and May 2015 at the height of diverted cargo from the West Coast,” Lynch said. “Loaded imports continue to perform well, demonstrating a high level of diverted cargo retention.”
Total cargo across all terminals reached 2.62 million tons in August, an increase of 117,470 tons, or 4.7%.
“The Authority has started off the fiscal year on a strong footing, with positive year-over-year growth in both July and August,” said GPA Board Chairman Jimmy Allgood. “Our volumes have exceeded previously forecasted levels, but are in line with expectations for the balance of FY2017.”
Lynch said he anticipates sustained market strength for GPA, adding that long-term growth will be enhanced by the new initiative announced last week, GPA’s Mid-American Arc. The initiative will focus on the growth of intermodal rail, extending the Port of Savannah’s reach to capture new markets ranging in an arc from Atlanta to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and the Ohio Valley.
A key facet of GPA’s Mid-American Arc plan, Lynch explained, is a “game-changing” rail expansion at Garden City Terminal. “We anticipate construction on our new, mega intermodal terminal to begin this March.”
He said additional track will allow the GPA to build unit trains 10,000 feet long on terminal. The ability to move 500 containers behind one locomotive will make more efficient use of track, lowering the per-container cost of transportation for GPA rail partners CSX and Norfolk Southern. “In turn, this is a powerful incentive for them to offer faster, more frequent service to vital inland markets,” Lynch added.
The Port of Savannah International Multi-modal Connector will link Garden City Terminal’s two rail yards, improving efficiency and growing the terminal’s rail lift capacity to approximately one million containers each year. The construction project will create the largest on-port rail facility of its kind on the US East Coast – all within the terminal’s current footprint.
“The project is a multi-phased program that will reconfigure the Port of Savannah’s on-dock intermodal container transfer facilities to bring rail switching activities inside the port,” Lynch said.
The multi-modal connector includes five major improvements. The first is construction of two arrival/departure tracks and extension of the track east from Chatham Yard to new arrival/departure tracks. Second, the project includes rebuilding a bridge over new yard tracks and the Pipemakers Canal. “The bridge on SR 25 is the linchpin of the project, allowing us to operate linked rail yards without disturbing neighborhood traffic,” Lynch said.
Running beneath the overpass will be tracks from the Chatham Yard on the south end of the terminal extended as working tracks at Mason Yard, as well as two additional arrival/departure tracks. At the Mason Yard, the project will add two new working tracks, new storage tracks and high-capacity rail mounted cranes.
The $128 million rail project is funded in part by a $44 million federal FASTLANE grant from the US Department of Transportation. The remaining $84 million will be provided by GPA internal capital funds. The GPA is part of a three-way partnership with Chatham County and the Georgia Department of Transportation that is working together to design and construct the SR 25 Overpass. Chatham County is designing the bridge structure to be placed within GDOT right of way. Funding for the overpass construction will be provided through GPA’s FASTLANE grant.
Also at the authority’s meeting, Lynch updated the board on the progress of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP). “To date, approximately 25% of the SHEP entrance channel dredging has been completed,” he said.