Georgia Ports Authority approves infrastructure projects to increase container capacity

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Georgia Port
The Georgia Ports Authority has approved projects to increase annual capacity at the Port of Savannah beyond 6 million 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs). In 2020, the Port of Savannah handled 4.7 million TEUs of cargo. (Courtesy: Georgia Ports Authority/Jeremy Polston)

SAVANNAH, Ga. – On March 29, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) Board approved capital improvement projects that will increase the Port of Savannah’s container capacity by 20%.

“Right now, we are moving container volumes that we did not expect to see for another four years,” said Griff Lynch, executive director of GPA. “Our employees are working very hard to ensure we continue to provide our customers with world-class service. Additionally, we are expediting capacity projects that will increase the speed and fluidity of cargo handling at the Port of Savannah.”

The board approved a terminal enhancement, dubbed the Peak Capacity project, that will establish 2,100 new grounded container slots. The project will add 650,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of annual container yard capacity in two phases, with the first opening in September.

“Georgia’s container trade has experienced unprecedented growth over the past six months,” said Will McKnight, GPA’s board chairman“This addition is among several that will address the needs of port users experiencing a sharp increase in demand, while also preparing Savannah to take on additional business over the long term.”

In its busiest February ever, the Port of Savannah moved 390,804 TEUs of cargo, an increase of 7.2&% (26,400 TEUs) compared to February 2020. Between September 2020 and February 2021, GPA handled 2.64 million TEUs, an increase of nearly 375,000 (16.5%) compared to the same six-month period a year ago.

“In terms of cargo volumes, we’ve added the equivalent of an extra month of trade since September,” Lynch said.

In addition to the Peak Capacity project, the board approved a renovation that will increase berth capacity by an estimated 1 million TEUs per year by June 2023. This will bring Garden City Terminal’s new total to 6 Million TEUs of annual berth capacity.

Higher volumes moving through the Port of Savannah have contributed to an industrial market growth rate that was highest in the nation for 2020 in terms of net absorption as a percent of total inventory. According to a report from commercial real estate firm CBRE Group, private operators filled 10 million square feet of industrial space in Savannah last year — nearly 13% of the total market. The firm also said that GPA’s record-setting business helped Atlanta’s industrial market absorb more than 20 million square feet in 2020.

According to the Colliers International market report for Savannah, the area ended the year with 77.5 million square feet of industrial space — an increase of 5.6 million square feet compared to 2019 — with another 7.7 million square feet under construction. Lynch noted there is enough land permitted for private development for more than 100 million square feet of new industrial space within 30 miles of the port.

Also on March 29, the GPA board approved the purchase of 20 new rubber-tired gantry (RTG) cranes. The new RTGs will be tall enough to stand over six containers, one higher than Savannah’s older RTGs, allowing for additional capacity in the same terminal footprint.

On Feb. 22, an expanded container operation went online at Savannah’s Ocean Terminal (OT), bringing the facility’s annual capacity to 250,000 TEUs.

“The new capacity at OT will ensure our shipping line customers see no service delays while GPA is straightening Berth 1 at Garden City Terminal,” McKnight said. “In light of unprecedented demand, we’re taking advantage of every opportunity to grow capacity at our deepwater terminals.”

Previously approved projects aimed at increasing Savannah’s big ship capability include the purchase of eight new ship-to-shore cranes. The new machines will replace six older models, bringing Savannah’s fleet to 38. The eight taller cranes will arrive in 2023, allowing Garden City Terminal to serve more than 15,000 TEU vessels. Savannah’s harbor deepening, a Corps of Engineers project, will reach substantial completion by the end of 2021, providing greater scheduling flexibility for vessel transit.

Since the upswing in containerized cargo began last fall, GPA has seen significant growth in categories such as machinery, appliances and electronics; hardware and housewares; food; furniture; apparel; and textiles.

Rail cargo outpaced the growth of the overall container trade in February, with intermodal lifts at Garden City Terminal reaching approximately 77,500 TEUs for the month, an increase of 12.6% (nearly 8,700 TEUs). The Appalachian Regional Port also had its busiest February ever, with the inland rail yard handling 4,955 TEUs of trade.

In Brunswick roll-on and roll-off (Ro/Ro) trade, Georgia Ports achieved 23% growth in February, handling 50,945 units of autos and heavy machinery, up 9,518 units compared to February 2020.

“The re-opening of domestic and overseas auto plants has resulted in an upward trend in roll-on and roll-off volumes at Colonel’s Island Terminal in Brunswick and at Savannah’s Ocean Terminal, which we expect to continue,” Lynch said.

GPA has received a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a fourth berth for Ro/Ro cargo at Colonel’s Island Terminal in Brunswick. The project, currently in the engineering phase, will provide increased speed and flexibility in auto processing.

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