The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) Board on Dec. 5 approved $127 million to build the Blue Ridge connector, an inland rail terminal in Gainesville, Ga., linking Northeast Georgia with the Port of Savannah’s 35 global container ship services.
Funding for the future facility, which will open in 2026 and serve a region important to produce heavy equipment, food and forest products, is a mix of GPA internal capital and a grant from the Federal Maritime Administration of up to $46.8 million.
Norfolk Southern (NS) will connect the facility to GPA’s Mason Mega Rail terminal in Savannah. Counting this latest project, GPA says it has now invested more than $374 million in rail capacity, including the Port of Savannah’s on-dock Mason Mega Rail Terminal and the Appalachian Regional Port in Northwest Georgia. Approximately 18-20% of GPA’s container cargo moves by rail; the rest is handled by truck.
According to NS, the new terminal will serve a range of industries, including consumer goods, heavy equipment, food, and forest products. Once completed, the Blue Ridge Connector will have 18,000 feet of trackage and a capacity of 200,000 lifts annually, building upon the nearly 20% of GPA’s container cargo that moves by rail today.
“Georgia is among the fastest-growing states and consistently ranked among the top to do business,” said NS Chief Marketing Officer Ed Elkins. “The Georgia Ports Authority is an important partner to Norfolk Southern, a gateway for our customers, and an engine for economic growth. We look forward to building on our strong relationship and helping our mutual customers grow.”
“Norfolk Southern is leading the industry in charting a better way to do business with rail,” continued Elkins. “Because we have the right strategy, which balances service, productivity, and growth, we can leverage our strategic footprint and macroeconomic trends working in our favor to confidently make these plans for smart, sustainable growth. Our involvement in this project is the strategy in action and a glimpse at the future of Norfolk Southern.”
“This important investment will help our customers streamline their supply chains while reducing congestion on Georgia highways,” said GPA President and CEO Griff Lynch. “As we have seen at the Appalachian Regional Port in Murray County, improved rail service to the region will increase transportation efficiency and act as a magnet for jobs and economic development. Every container moved by rail will avoid a 600-mile roundtrip by truck between Savannah and the Gainesville, area,” Lynch added. “That’s a massive benefit to cargo owners seeking to reduce their carbon footprint.” Hybrid electric rubber tire gantry cranes will be used.
Separately, the Board approved $44.5 million to build a 300,000-square-foot facility on Garden City Terminal with offices and refrigeration facilities to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Savannah, GPA says, provides the only on-port CBP inspection facility in the U.S., “lowering costs and time for port customers by eliminating the need to transport cargo to an off-site inspection facility.”
“Our long-term partnership with CBP is important to the safe and secure operational flow of cargo through our gateway container terminal,” said GPA Chairman Kent Fountain. “This investment represents the next level of making future supply chains runs smoother in Savannah.”
Last month, GPA reopened Berth 1 at Garden City Terminal to vessel traffic. The two-year renovation project, GPA says, now allows the dock to serve vessels in the 16,000-plus twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) range. With all berths now online, vessel service has returned to previous velocities, with ship queues cleared.
At the Port of Brunswick, GPA is conducting a $262 million expansion program. Construction is complete on 350,000 square feet of near-dock warehousing that serves auto and machinery processing on the north side of Colonel’s Island Terminal. Three additional buildings representing 290,000 square feet and 122 acres of Roll-on/Roll-off cargo storage space are under construction on the south side of the island.
According to GPA, the Authority “maintains a two-pillar strategy of development and operations,” with the Port of Savannah focused on container trade and Brunswick specializing in Ro/Ro cargo.
While volume numbers have yet to be finalized for November, GPA says it anticipates trade of approximately 430,000 TEUs, for an 18.5% increase over the same month in 2019, the most recent year not affected by the pandemic.