Five new rubber-tired gantry cranes arrive at the Port of Savannah on Dec. 3, 2021. The Georgia Ports Authority Board approved on Dec. 6 the purchase of nine additional RTGs, for a total of 29 to be delivered.
The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) agreed in early December to accelerate a $150 million expansion at the Port of Savannah in response to a surge in cargo volumes that has cramped its container yard and kept ships waiting at sea, the AP reported.
The state agency's governing board approved a plan to increase by 25 percent Savannah's capacity for cargo containers by June 2022.
The new space for storing containers waiting to be loaded onto ships, trucks or trains will cover approximately 150 acres, according to Griff Lynch, the GPA's executive director. He said more than a third of that new capacity should be ready in January, and Savannah's port will be capable of handling 1.6 million additional cargo containers per year.
"It was in our long-range plan, but we're expediting it," Lynch explained. "None of this was planned for this year or next year."
Also at its December meeting, the GPA Board approved the $24.4 million purchase of nine electric-powered rubber-tired gantry cranes that will help support the expansion.
"Through ingenuity and teamwork, GPA has put into place what amounts to the largest current expansion for a port operation in North America," said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. "It's a testament to the leadership and forward thinking at America's most efficient gateway for containerized trade."
Container Ships Stuck in Congestion Offshore
Like other U.S. seaports, the Port of Savannah has scrambled to work through traffic jams caused by record volumes of shipping containers piling up as the economy rebounds from the pandemic. Savannah is home to the nation's fourth-busiest port for cargo shipped in containers. The giant metal boxes are used to transport a wide range of goods from consumer electronics to frozen chickens.
The AP noted that the swell in cargo caused Savannah's port to see its busiest month ever in October, when the number of container units of imports and exports crossing its docks exceeded 500,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, or TEUs, for the first time. The port handled a record 5.3 million container units in the 2021 fiscal year that ended June 30.
"Moving more than half a million TEUs across our docks in one month is the result of new capacity already coming online and the incredible teamwork of GPA employees, the International Longshoremen's Association and port customers." Lynch told the GPA board.
GPA Building More ‘Pop-Up' Container Facilities
Off-terminal, the port authority is growing by another half-million TEUs in annual capacity by expanding its inland port strategy to include flexible "pop-up" container yards near manufacturing and distribution centers.
GPA has activated the yards in partnership with its two Class I rail providers, CSX and Norfolk Southern, as well as regional property owners. Four locations in Atlanta, Savannah, Statesboro and Murray County, the latter in northwest Georgia, are currently in operation, bringing cargo closer to customers and increasing capacity by reducing unnecessary container storage time at the Savannah port's Garden City Terminal.
The new facilities also will reduce truck traffic; the Atlanta yard, for example, will avoid more than 500 roundtrip truck miles per box, with anticipated volumes of 1,200 containers a month.
Lynch said with the new capacity arriving and customers clearing cargo more quickly, the Port of Savannah has already seen a dramatic drop in the length of time containers are on terminal. He noted that the number of import containers on port for more than four weeks has dropped by 53 percent compared to September.
"Through ingenuity and teamwork, GPA has put into place what amounts to the largest current expansion for a port operation in North America," said Kemp. "It's a testament to the leadership and forward thinking at America's most efficient gateway for containerized trade."
GPA's efforts to reduce the cargo backlog have already seen results. The Port of Savannah had about 67,000 containers at its terminal Dec. 6, Lynch said, compared to roughly 85,000 in September. And the 13 ships anchored off the coast waiting to enter the port was about half the peak number months ago.
"We're not out of the woods yet," he reported, before cautiously adding, "We think this will continue up through the first quarter of 2022 at least."
Georgia's two deep-water ports, in Savannah and Brunswick, as well as its inland barge terminals, support more than 496,700 jobs throughout the state annually, contribute $29 billion in income, $122 billion in revenue and $3.4 billion in state and local taxes to its economy.
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