Despite soaking rains during crucial months, construction is nearing completion on a new inland port in Greer, S.C. Located halfway between the two largest urban centers in the southeast, the $50 million investment is expected to handle up to 40,000 container lifts a year initially, with potential expansion to 100,000 containers annually.
“This isn't the first inland port in the U.S., but it was an innovative concept for us,” said Jack Ellenberg, South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) senior vice president of economic development and projects. “It provides access to 100 million consumers within 500 miles along the I-85 corridor, and allows us to redefine what 'near port' means to our customers.”
The site is 90-acres, with approximately 40 developed for use. The new port offers access to water, rail and truck transportation capabilities, as well as the Greenville Spartanburg Airport. For the upstate, the South Carolina Inland Port (SCIP) offers connectivity to the global marketplace that did not exist one year ago.
“The SCPA has owned the property in Greer since 1982, and the concept of utilizing the property for an inland terminal gained momentum in January 2012 during discussions with Norfolk Southern Railroad and BMW,” said Ellenberg. “The timing was right for a couple of reasons. It's ideally located on the I-85 corridor halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte. Rail offers reliability to customers by moving cargo on dedicated trains on pre-scheduled routes, and it also has a lower carbon footprint than truck.
As bigger ships call on the Port of Charleston, they rely on inland infrastructure, and the inland port puts us in an ideal position to meet their needs.”
Officials broke ground on the project March 1, and the site was operational in October. Construction is expected to continue until the end of the year. Paving is underway around terminal gates, and crews are working to finish construction on the terminal buildings. In addition, crews are installing large-scale light fixtures.
“The reaction has been incredibly positive,” said Ellenberg. “The terminal opened with BMW as the launch customer. We couldn't operate this terminal without the upstate, which is already home to the largest concentration of port users in South Carolina. We've also had tremendous support from the cities of Greer, Spartanburg and other business entities in the area.”
The inland terminal is an extension of the port facility 212 mi. (341.2 km) into the interior of the state. Norfolk Southern Railways provides an overnight rail service from the Port of Charleston, so cargo leaving the harbor in the evening arrives in Greer the following morning, and vice versa. It's owned and operated just like the SCPA's other terminals.
South Carolina Ports Authority is the owner and operator of the terminal, while Norfolk Southern Railroad is responsible for rail operations at the terminal and partner in the development of the project. The SCPA contracted with Illinois-based CenterPoint Properties to develop the site. The firm Parsons Brinckerhoff also played a crucial role.
“When it became apparent an alternative delivery approach would be required to fast-track the design and construction of the inland port, Parsons Brinckerhoff was asked to assist the South Carolina State Ports Authority in identifying and implementing an appropriate contracting structure to meet the aggressive timetable for the project, said Jeff Schechtman, SCPA program manager.
Ragnar-Benson was hired to bid out construction of the various work packages while the design was being completed. Parsons Brinckerhoff acted as the owner's representative to ensure the design and construction met the needs of departments such as engineering, operations, IT and security.
“Because the project required extensive coordination between the Authority and the design and construction team, we established a working group early on to track progress and identify issues requiring resolution,” said Schechtman. “With formal meetings every two weeks and frequent informal interaction, this team was key to moving the project forward. As design progressed toward completion and construction got under way, similar teams were formed, focused on design and construction progress, with meetings held weekly.”
Schechtman said one of the greatest challenges on the project was the need to compress the overall schedule to meet customer needs.
“This was accomplished both by a compression of the design schedule, and having the work packages bid out prior to design completion. The latter resulted in the need to carefully craft contract language between the Authority and the contractor to determine how changes between the bid packages and the final design would impact the budget and schedule for the project.”
As construction work got under way, unprecedented rains hit during the months of May through July. During this time earthwork was a major focus on the job, and the site encountered over 30 in. of rainfall in the three-month span. This required the construction team to seek ways to adjust its work sequencing to make progress when rain prevented certain activities.
“The weather proved to be a source of much frustration, as for most of the summer each day's forecast called for consistent, if not heavy, rains, said Schechtman. “Particularly in June and July, there was rarely sufficient time between rainy days for the ground to dry out and become workable for excavation and compaction. As the summer wore on, the Authority was required to resort to the introduction of lime as a drying agent to reduce the impact of the rain on the project schedule.”
While crews on the project encountered three months of bad weather, the overall schedule for initial testing and operations was held to a slippage of less than one month. As the project neared completion, the Authority began limited operations on part of the facility, while the balance of the project was being constructed. This required careful coordination between the contractor and operations personnel.
A variety of equipment was used during construction. Earthwork was performed using a Komatsu 460 off-road haul truck; a Komatzu 61x dozer; a Volvo articulated off-road haul truck; a Komatsu 450 excavator; a John Deere 650 excavator; a Komatsu 750 excavator; a Caterpillar 815 compactor and a Caterpillar motor grader.
For underground utilities, Komatsu 450, 650, 200, 220 and 300 excavators were used, along with a Komatsu WA 200 wheeled loader and a Kubota 161 mini-excavator.
Other equipment on site included a pug mill; two Gomaco pavers; on-road dump trucks; a motorgrader; tamper; ballast regulator; skid loader; rubber tired loaders and 250-ton (226 t) cranes to set electrical poles and the compressed air station.
More than 1,000,000 cu. yds. (764,554 cu m) of earthwork was required to grade the site. More than 5 mi. ( 8 km) of track work was constructed, including two 2,600 ft. (792.5 m) working tracks, two 2,600 ft. storage tracks and one 2,600 ft. running track, along with east and west lead tracks tying the facility in to the Norfolk Southern mainline. Roller-compacted concrete was required for roads and the container yard.
“At the peak of the project, there were around 80 workers on site,” said Schechtman. “Most of the contractors on site worked twelve-hour shifts, and many worked six days per week where needed to maintain schedule.”
Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Ragnar-Benson construction team built track work for the project.
“All of the tracks within the terminal footprint, comprising two working tracks, a running track, and two storage tracks, were constructed by RailWorks under contract to Ragnar-Benson, along with the majority of the west lead track tying the facility in to the Norfolk Southern Mainline,” said Schechtman “Norfolk Southern was responsible for building the east lead track and the last sections of track where the lead tracks at each end of the facility tie into their mainline. Norfolk Southern also handled all of the signals required to incorporate the new track into their system.”
The inland port used roller-compacted concrete to provide the more than 40 acres of pavement required for construction. The terminal pavement included two primary sections, both using cement-treated soil as a base course.
“In areas where rubber-tired gantry [RTG] cranes will handle loaded containers stacked up to four high, a 13-inch thick pavement section was employed. For general traffic lanes, empty container storage, and wheeled [container-on-chassis] storage areas, a lighter 9.5-inch section was used,” said Schechtman. “While the initial layout of the terminal calls for two loaded container storage blocks served by RTGs, additional heavy pavement was built to allow the conversion of additional area to RTG-served storage in the future when need to provide additional capacity.”
The Authority worked closely with the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the City of Greer to identify the preferred truck routes and plan for signage along I-85 and local roads Brockman-McClimon and J. Verne Smith Parkway. City officials worked to minimize the potential for truck traffic associated with the SCIP facility to travel through downtown Greer.
“The project represents what can be achieved when public and private entities join forces to achieve a common goal,” said Schechtman. “All parties including the Authority, Norfolk Southern Railroad, and the design and construction team, worked in close cooperation to overcome hurdles and successfully deliver a challenging project.”
More than 250 port users, stakeholders, community leaders and elected officials came together to break ground for the project, which U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has recognized for improving freight transportation nationwide through a public-private partnership.
“Our ports have driven economic investment across this great state, and the inland port will play a crucial role in helping companies here move their goods more efficiently than ever before,” said South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. “It is critical that we invest in the infrastructure that supports our ports' success, in order to continue bringing good jobs to South Carolina.”
“Norfolk Southern is very excited to work with the South Carolina Ports Authority on the South Carolina Inland Port,” said Mike McClellan, vice president of intermodal and automotive marketing of Norfolk Southern. “This project leverages the best capabilities of Norfolk Southern and the SCPA, and will provide new, cost-effective, rail-based intermodal solutions that should benefit all of the shippers in the upstate South Carolina region.”
Officials say benefits of the new port include lower inland costs for shippers, because of added density on trains and container matching for import and export loads. There's also a reported environmental benefit of increased freight tonnage moved by rail per gallon of fuel.
Currently under the direction of president and CEO Jim Newsome, the South Carolina Ports Authority was established by the state's General Assembly in 1942. It owns and operates public seaport facilities in Charleston and Georgetown, handling international commerce valued at more than $63 billion annually. Port operations facilitate more than 260,000 jobs across South Carolina and nearly $45 billion in economic activity each year. The new inland port is a proud addition, according to Ellenberg.
“The inland port is part of the SCPA's 10 year, $1.3 billion capital plan that includes improvements to existing port facilities and construction of new facilities. In addition to the inland port, the 280-acre Navy Base Terminal is scheduled to come online in 2019, enabling the Port of Charleston to increase capacity by 50 percent, and meet growing demand in the southeast as an export base and consumption market. Progress is also under way for Charleston Harbor Post-45, an effort to deepen the Charleston Harbor to 50 feet.”
For Ellenberg and others involved in the project, the new port represents more than an additional way to move cargo.
“It's a significant economic development tool, and the biggest impact of this facility will ultimately be outside the terminal gates. Companies who want to be near-port will look to the upstate in part because of the inland port in Greer. It improves logistics in our region and state, and on a global scale, it opens new intermodal point in the southeast. We believe this terminal will redefine how distribution is done in South Carolina, and our neighboring states.”