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Is Savannah Poised to be the New Midwest Gateway?

Comparing one of the largest ports in the U.S. with an iconic baseball movie might seem like a stretch, but in the spirit of “Field of Dreams,” the Port of Savannah has become a model for other ports around the world who seek to expand their infrastructure and attract shippers and carriers alike. As the fourth largest port in the U.S., Savannah has successfully proven that if you build it right – shippers and carriers will indeed come calling. Savannah poised to be the new Midwest gateway

Let’s take a look at why it’s smooth sailing into and out of the Port of Savannah and what steps it took to ensure future growth and provide continued value for its customers.

Smooth Sailing in Savannah

Recent logistics news, have discussed the ongoing congestion issues at U.S. ports. However, unlike west coast ports, the Port of Savannah has largely avoided those problems. Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) Executive Director, Curtis Foltz indicates that “almost every major port has struggled with some congestion other than Savannah.” 

Savannah is a single-terminal port – the largest one in the U.S. – and it boasts nearly two miles of continuous berth. This design has avoided the problems and delays caused by chassis shortages, compounded by the need to reposition chassis between terminals, which are currently experienced at west coast ports. Drayage drivers are able to pick up or drop loads in an average of just 35 minutes. This is a considerable advantage compared to wait times at west coast ports that can be twice as long. In fact, according to Foltz, “customers that have always used us are diverting more cargo here because of congestion at other ports.”

A Southern-Style Recipe for Success

Terminal design isn’t the only thing that the Port of Savannah has going for it. Already capable of handling ships over 8,000 TEU, the Georgia Ports Authority has committed the heavy investment of $100 million annually in the Garden City terminal. GPA’s Foltz, “We have 25 modern ship-to-shore cranes, almost 120 (rubber-tire gantry cranes) and both (CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway) on-dock service. It’s really unmatched what we have to offer.” New cranes aren’t the only examples of successful investment for growth:

  • Investment in expanded refrigerated capability has contributed to making Savannah the poultry export gateway in the U.S.
  • Total container TEUs were nearly 1.6 million, an increase of 6.9 percent year-over-year.
  • Savannah is now the second busiest East coast port after the Port of New York and New Jersey.
  • Savannah also boasts good relations with cargo handlers and agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture chose Savannah to participate in a pilot program to import more South American fruit.
  • Further port development is enhanced by advantages in inland infrastructure. Interstate 95 and Interstate 16 are well situated to serve Atlanta, the largest city in the southeast.

The Future Looks Bright

The Port and the State of Georgia have circumvented the slow process of relying on Congressional approval for expansion and are investing millions of their own money in plans to deepen the inner and outer harbors to 47 and 49 feet, respectively. In addition, the project will create more passing lanes to allow two-way transit.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act, approved by the GA General Assembly and signed by Gov. Deal, will provide $266 million for construction slated to begin in the coming weeks. Gov. Deal said, “improving the Savannah Harbor is vitally important to the continued economic health of this state and region… by accommodating larger, more efficient vessels, the deepening will reduce shipping costs for American businesses by $213 million a year.”

In comments made at the 2014 State of the Port Address, GPA Executive Director Foltz outlined how these improvements will affect the Port going forward:

  • Improvements are expected to more than double current throughput in the next 10 years to more than 6.5 million TEUs annually.
  • It will create eight more ship-to-shore cranes and more than 50 new rubber-tired gantry cranes.
  • The GA Department of Transportation is expected to fund and complete the Jimmy Deloach Parkway Extension by mid-2016. This will create a cargo beltway that connects the Port with Interstate 95 and Interstate 16.

When the Panama Canal expansion is completed in April 2015, the Port of Savannah, poised to become the new Midwest gateway, will offer shippers an incentive to move their Midwest-bound cargo via the Georgia port. Savannah hopes that the improvements will encourage vessels to make the Port a first or second port stop after they come through the Panama Canal, effectively becoming a gateway for Midwest cargoes. “How much that is; I don’t know. Time will tell. I think it’s a long-term play,” Foltz said.

Would you would like to learn more about Vantec Hitachi Transport System (USA), Inc. and the services we offer?   

Continuation from Part 1 on November 22, 2013

Original text appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of Breakbulk Magazine

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