The resurrection of earmarks in Congress after a 10-year absence could become a boon for the Port of Mobile and its intermodal partners.
A project submitted by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., under the new “Community Project Funding” rule approved by lawmakers earlier this year would create an intermodal transfer facility in Montgomery, Alabama.
Sewell’s $2 million funding request would be used to purchase land for the project, located just south of Montgomery adjacent to a CSX [NASDAQ: CSX] rail line and close to two interstate highways. It would be the linchpin — if the project is ultimately selected by congressional appropriators for funding — for a $54 million cargo facility that would operate as an inland extension of the Port of Mobile roughly 200 miles south on the Gulf of Mexico.
“You need to have critical mass for this kind of development to be successful, and that’s the opportunity that Hyundai brings to the project,” Alabama State Port Authority CEO John Driscoll told FreightWaves, referring to the automobile manufacturer located within 2 miles of the proposed facility.
The port envisions shifting container imports of auto parts and components — currently moving from Mobile to Hyundai’s assembly plant via truck — off the road and onto rail. The change would improve just-in-time service to shippers in the Montgomery area, Driscoll said. “In expanding our scope of potential customers, it became apparent that there is a lot of interest in the Montgomery area and beyond for this type of service.”
Driscoll is looking to take advantage of the inland port concept that has proved successful at other U.S. East Coast container ports, namely at Hampton Roads at the Ports of Virginia, as well at the ports of Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.
Container terminal operator APM Terminals (APMT), which opened an intermodal facility at the Port of Mobile in 2016 and would operate the Montgomery inland terminal (likely in a lease arrangement from the port), sees an opportunity for extending its inbound and outbound container markets in the region which would not necessarily be at the expense of trucking.
“We saw sporadic trucking shortages at every major port throughout the past year, and a lack of adequate trucking capacity is actually one of the challenges of our overall growth potential at Mobile,” Brian Harold, managing director of APMT Mobile, told FreightWaves.
“The biggest truckers in the area are based out of Mobile, so they have to forgo opportunities because they don’t have the capacity. Demand is exceeding supply, so if we can supplement the Montgomery market by using rail, it takes pressure off the trucking community.”
Harold also noted that setting up a rail-served inland port at Montgomery allows trucks to be dispatched from there to Tuscaloosa and Birmingham in the northern part of the state.
“Being able to shuttle those containers to an inland port in Montgomery would make it an extension of our deep-sea facility, so it ultimately increases the throughput of the Port of Mobile.”
Driscoll said that an inland port, combined with a $366 million dredging project that is deepening the Mobile Ship Channel to 50 feet, will contribute to container volume growth. The port handled approximately 424,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2020. However, “we’re looking at becoming a 1.5 million-TEU port,” he said.
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