Georgia Ports Authority to build inland distribution hub in Gainesville in state’s northeast region

 A vessel enters the Port of Savannah under the Talmadge Bridge (Photo: Shutterstock)

A vessel enters the Port of Savannah under the Talmadge Bridge (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Georgia Ports Authority, which runs the container port of Savannah and the breakbulk and roll-on/roll-off port of Brunswick, will announce on Monday that it will build an inland distribution facility near Gainesville, Ga. in the Northeast region of the state.

The announcement will be made by outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal at an event in Hall County, 57 miles northeast of Atlanta, where Gainesville is located. Under the project, freight will be moved by rail between the Port of Savannah and the new Gainesville facility. Goods will be trucked to and from the facility for the rail move, which will be handled by eastern rail giant Norfolk Southern Corp. (NYSE:NSC). As of tonight, there was no time frame given for groundbreaking.

The announcement comes nearly three-and-a-half months after the official opening of GPA’s first inland intermodal facility, located in Chatsworth in the state’s northwest corner. The 388-mile operation connecting Savannah and Chatsworth uses track owned by CSX Corp. (NYSE:CSX), Norfolk Southern’s chief rival in the east. 

The Chatsworth facility links businesses in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky with Savannah, enabling the region’s exporters to get direct access to the port without trucking their freight through Atlanta. Importers at Savannah looking to deliver goods into the four-state inland region and beyond would derive the same benefit.

GPA, which is owned by the state but effectively operates as a private entity, has been vocal in its support for the inland port model as a way to connect Savannah, the nation’s fourth busiest containerport, with manufacturers in the U.S. interior through the use of a dedicated train, thus taking trucks off the highways and bypassing Atlanta’s heavily congested roads. Griff Lynch, GPA’s executive director, had hinted as far back as last summer of the Port Authority’s intention to construct an inland distribution facility in the northeast region.

The Gainesville facility could take trucks off busy Interstate 85, which links between Montgomery, Ala. and Petersburg, Va., and runs through metro Atlanta. Another interstate highway, I-985, branches off I-85 near Gainesville and runs in the direction of the North Georgia mountains and toward the state’s twin borders with North and South Carolina.

On the drawing board is an inland distribution facility which would be located in LaGrange in west Georgia. Another facility, located in Cordele in the state's south-central region, is operated by a private-sector entity.

GPA’s objective is to develop the largest intermodal complex in the eastern third of the U.S. The Port Authority is building a rail link between Savannah and points as far west as St. Louis and Oklahoma City, and as far south as Memphis, in an effort take share of Midwest cargo traffic from West Coast ports. GPA is also in the midst of a multi-year initiative to expand its container-handling capacity to 8.8 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) by 2028. Its current capacity is 5.5 million TEUs, but expects volumes to grow substantially during the next 10 years. It handled 4.5 million TEUs in its 2018 fiscal year, which ended in mid-year 2018.