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Ports outline needed road improvements
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The Georgia Ports Authority is continuing to expand and is trying to take some of the pressure off the roads, Effingham Chamber of Commerce members learned Wednesday morning.

Lee Beckmann, director of legislative affairs for the Ports Authority, said the Garden City Terminal’s ongoing boom will mean more truck traffic on roads leading to and from the port over the next 15 years.

“We are working on separating the truck traffic and the commuter traffic,” he said at the Chamber’s monthly membership breakfast. “We are working with the (Department of Transportation) to speed up Jimmy DeLoach Parkway.”

The GPA has offered to perform the engineering necessary for Jimmy DeLoach Parkway improvements, since it may be able to do that faster than the DOT can, Beckmann said

Part of the GPA’s solution includes taking Jimmy DeLoach Parkway to Highway 307. The GPA also is looking at a rail overpass on 307, “so autos aren’t encumbered by waiting on the trains,” Beckmann said.

The ports are pushing their “Last Mile” projects, a series of road improvements designed to ease the flow of traffic into and out of the ports.

“They are going to create a beltway around west Chatham County and get those trucks onto I-16 and I-95,” Beckmann said. “We’ll be able to separate the commuter traffic from the truck traffic and alleviate some of the problems we’ve been seeing.”

From 1994 to 2001, the Savannah port’s business grew from 8 percent to 12 percent a year. In 2001, the port surpassed 1 million TEUs — 20-foot equivalent units, the standard container measure used to compare port capacity and traffic. With a longshoremen strike on the West Coast in 2003 shutting down those ports, traffic at the Savannah port jumped 31.5 percent.

“Our growth has been phenomenal,” Beckmann said.

Beckmann said there is a market adjustment following such spikes resulting from labor woes, but the Savannah port’s business grew again the following year.

“What that told us is that our customers found us to be fast and cheap,” he said.

In five years, the throughput — the amount of TEUs coming through the port — doubled, and last year, the port handled 2.3 million TEUs. Eighty percent of the cargo is handled by trucks and 20 percent is carried by rail.

The Savannah port and its Garden City terminal expect to handle 6.5 million TEUs by 2018. That means the number of trucks in and out of the port is anticipated to go from 7,300 to 18,500 and it makes the road improvements that much more necessary.

“We plan ahead for tomorrow’s growth today,” Beckmann said. “We’re constantly looking at improving our capacity. We’re trying to step up our efforts.”

The port plans to expand its Garden City terminal, the fourth-largest container port in the U.S., without increasing its footprint, going from 5,600 square acres of usable space to 8,800 square acres.

“We’re improving the efficiency of our current footprint, instead of increasing it,” Beckmann said.

A harbor deepening project, part of $1.2 billion in expansion plans for the ports, will take the depth of the Savannah River channel from 42 feet to 48 feet. That will allow ships that hold 10,000 TEUs to enter the port. That’s the equivalent of 5,800 trucks or 570 fully-loaded 747 cargo jets on one ship.

The Colonel’s Island facility in Brunswick, the sixth-largest roll-on/roll-off port in the U.S., has increased from 450 acres to nearly 1,200 acres. That was coupled with Mercedes-Benz USA making the Colonel’s Island terminal the vehicle preparation site for 50,000 imported cars a year.

The University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business conducted a study on the ports’ impact on the state’s economy but didn’t believe the numbers offered by port officials. Beckmann said Terry analysts didn’t think the numbers were accurate and thought the impact was much lower.

What they found was that the port led to nearly 287,000 jobs in the state, with $14.9 billion in wages, plus $3.5 billion in federal revenue, $1.6 billion in state taxes and $1.2 billion in local revenue.

“We created 9 percent of the state budget,” Beckmann said. “Getting $1.6 billion out of $24 million is a pretty good investment.”