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Southeast US ports seek to ramp up container capacity

Port of Savannah to add 1.6 million TEUs of capacity while JAXPORT signs off on $49 million construction contract

The ports of Savannah and Jackonsville are expanding their capaciry to handle containers. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Two Southeast U.S. ports are seeking to expand container capacity in a bid to reach customers needing access to the Southeast and Midwest markets.

Port of Savannah to expand container capacity by an additional 1.6 million TEUs

GPA’s Peak Capacity Project, is currently under construction and will provide 800,000 twenty-foot equivalent container units of annual capacity at the Port of Savannah, accordingto GPA. The project will be completed in two phases, with the first coming online in December. (Photo: GPA)

The Port of Savannah aims to add 1.6 million twenty-foot equivalent units in capacity as part of a broader effort to position itself as the hub port of the U.S. Southeast, the Georgia Ports Authority announced Tuesday.

The additional capacity will come online in phases, starting as early as December. Full completion of the expansion, which consists of an additional 230 acres of container-handling space, is expected in 2023.

At the port authority’s board meeting on Tuesday, the board approved more than $34 million to expedite the capacity expansion. Included in this total is the purchase of 22.2 acres adjacent to GPA’s 145-acre West Expansion property. The board also agreed to fund the development of another 18 acres of land adjacent to GPA’s 60-acre Peak Capacity project, currently under construction. 

Maritime import shipments at the Port of Savannah over the past year. The shipments are a seven-day moving average of shipments into Savannah based on US Customs data. (FreightWaves SONAR) To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.

“In three months, this investment will begin to deliver the additional capacity we need to better accommodate increased volumes and demand for our services,” said GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch. “I would like to thank our board of directors for their confidence in our ability to grow our existing terminals; our customers for sticking with us and, in many cases, increasing their commitment to Georgia’s ports; and to the men and women working throughout the supply chain, and especially GPA’s employees, I want to thank you for your hard work and dedication during unprecedented times in our industry.”

In addition to announcing the capacity expansion, GPA also said August at the Port of Savannah was the second-busiest month in its history. August volumes rose 10% over a year ago to 485,595 TEUs, just below the record of 498,000 TEUs set in March. 

This SONAR chart shows the spread in van loads leaving Savannah versus loads arriving in Savannah. (FreightWaves SONAR)

Jacksonville Port Authority awards $49 million construction contract to expand terminal capacity

The Port of Jacksonville in Florida. (Pohot: JAXPORT)

It’s not just Georgia that is seeking to ramp up container capacity. At the Port of Jacksonville in Florida, plans are also underway to expand container capacity.

The board of directors for the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) said Monday that it has unanimously awarded a $48.8 million construction service contract to Superior Construction Company to enable the SSA Jacksonville Container Terminal at Blount Island to accommodate more containers. 

The construction contract will cover the first seven of eight phases, JAXPORT said. The $72 million project ultimately will enable the SSA facility to accommodate up to 500,000 TEUs annually, which is 150% higher than the current throughput. By the end of this project in 2024, JAXPORT seeks to grow total TEU throughput by more than 40% to nearly 2 million TEUs annually. 

Maritime import shipments at the Port of Savannah over the past year. The shipments are a seven-day moving average of shipments into Jacksonville based on U.S. Customs data. (FreightWaves SONAR) 

In 2019, JAXPORT and SSA entered into a 25-year lease for the terminal.

“We are excited with the progress being made to modernize SSA’s presence at JAXPORT, which will enhance our capacity and capabilities in Jacksonville,” said SSA Conventional President Mark Knudsen. “As completion of the deepening project nears, this facility offers an expanded and highly productive international container terminal that’s ready to handle the growing demands of cargo owners and shipping lines looking to take advantage of the efficiencies the region offers.”

Total outbound loaded rail volumes for 48-foot and 53-foot containers at the Port of Jacksonville. Two Class I railroads — CSX and Norfolk Southern — and Florida East Coast Railway serve the port. (FreightWaves SONAR)

Port officials plan to complete the expansion in phases so that the terminal can remain open and operational throughout construction, JAXPORT said.

A $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration is partially funding the project. The grant also calls for the deepening of the Jacksonville shipping channel to 47 feet. That deepening, which includes the construction of a vessel turning basin to help larger ships turn at Blount Island, will be completed in 2022. 

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.