The landlocked “inland” port of Georgia - understanding the prospects of Murray County

 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The port of Savannah in the state of Georgia has been seeing substantial growth in the last few years and is currently the nation’s fastest growing and fourth-busiest container port. The port handled over 4 million TEUs in 2017, which included 323,000 TEUs in December, incidentally the busiest month of December in the Georgia Port Authority’s (GPA) history.

The GPA is now working on deepening the port to accommodate more tonnage in the upcoming years. Dredging processes are underway, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers having recently completed the outer harbor dredging at the port. The project has received $49 million in President Trump’s FY 2018, which is nearly half of the $100 million per year budget being pushed by Georgia’s congressional delegation. The investment, though, is not without perceived dividends - once the harbor completes its expansion, it is expected to add $282 million in transportation savings each year.

But with expansion, come the traffic bottlenecks. The highway leading to the Savannah port is already considered one of the busiest roads in the South East, and increasing capacity at the port is doing no good to improve the situation. And to this predicament, comes in the landlocked area of Murray County as a veritable trump card.

An inland port is under construction in Murray County, over an area of 42 acres beside U.S. Highway 411. The idea is to ship containers from the port of Savannah to Murray County through rail and then transfer the containers onto trucks at the rail hub. It is thus anticipated that the inland port would drastically alleviate the traffic situation prevailing across the Savannah port.

Right now, the larger vessels come into the port and unload thousands of containers all at once, leading to a high influx of trucks in a specific time period. With consistent volume being handled at Savannah, congestion on the highways leading to the port is inevitable. Drivers queue up for hours on end, which in some circumstances could even take days.

“This is where the inland port in Murray County comes into play,” said Illya Copeland, Executive Director of Murray County Industrial Development Authority. “We have a direct CSX rail line that comes to Murray County. And the containers can be offloaded, or new containers can be loaded back on, for them to get down to Savannah and go overseas. So logistically, we take the road situation out of the equation and put everything on the rail. In the first three years, we anticipate that there would be approximately 50,000 containers going in and out of this port annually.”

Murray County also holds a geographic advantage - from the inland port, it is possible to reach three-fourths of the continental U.S. in fewer than two days, enhancing the market reach for various companies that are trying to move their product in and out of the Savannah port. Once the inland port is completed, companies would only need to reach Murray County and not make the laborious haul to the Savannah port, amidst the traffic congestion that usually ensues on the highway.

But as it is common with major construction projects, there have been polar discussions erupting across the county about the potential impact of the inland port. While some say it brings in much-needed jobs and development to the county, a few others believe it could create an adverse effect on the surrounding environment and increase traffic bottlenecks in the region.

Copeland believes in the former, insisting that the inland port would bring in a lot of development to a place which has not seen a lot of industrial activity apart from flooring and carpet manufacturing. “The port will create more jobs. It will be providing an opportunity for our logistics companies that are fighting for routes, container loads and hauls,” he said. "North West Georgia has been known as the carpet or flooring capital of the world. That has been our industry for a long time, but now, we are attracting a more diverse mix of industries to this area."

At present, the lack of diversity in the industrial scene in Northern Georgia is telling. A lot of students who finish schooling in the region migrate to different states for better opportunities, unwilling to work in the carpet trade which has been the area’s mainstay for decades. With new industrial activity and businesses cropping up, students would have broadened exposure to different niches, which Copeland hopes would make them stay back and play a role in the region’s development.

But all this development would come at a cost, as the trucks that used to ply the highways between North Georgia and Savannah would now be tracing their routes through the county. “We are working on a state level and also at a local level to identify the routes that would have the majority of traffic flow. Once that is identified, we would try to steer the traffic to either interstate or state highways. We are also making sure to keep our industrial traffic out of the way of our schools and residential areas,” Copeland said.

The county’s development authority has been hard at work in strategically identifying properties that would be good for industrial development. With that in mind, the county has recently bought a 382-acre tract of land in South Murray, away from the inland port to accommodate the interests of businesses that are not looking to avail the port service.

The inland port facility is expected to serve in the interests of businesses in northwest Georgia, east Tennessee, northeast Alabama, and a bit of Kentucky as well. With a Walmart, Amazon, and Volkswagen positioned all around Murray County, business at the port should hit the ground running.

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