A proposed inland port in Hall County would use existing rail lines and connect Hall to the port in Savannah, making it easier for local businesses to import and export goods.
The project is still in the early planning stages, but if everything goes according to plan, the port would likely open in 2021, according to John Trent, senior director of strategic operations with the Georgia Ports Authority. Construction would take about 18 to 24 months, he said.
The exact site has not been announced.
Trent said about 50,000 containers would probably come through the port in the first year, although that number would likely increase by about 50 percent by the port’s third year of operation.
The port would use existing Norfolk Southern rail lines in Hall County, according to Trent. Chris Riley, Gov. Nathan Deal’s chief of staff, also referenced the port’s use of Norfolk Southern lines at a Gainesville Rotary Club meeting on Sept. 10.
A representative from Norfolk Southern said information about the project was not available at this time.
Hall County’s location near interstate highways and industry, as well as existing rail lines, makes it suitable for an inland port, Trent said.
“You want to be near an interstate or major artery, which Hall County has. In addition to that, you want to be near industry. …. Within the 11 counties surrounding Hall County, there’s a significant amount of warehouse space and distribution centers,” Trent said. “There’s over 2 million people that are within that area, so that’s a big draw to move freight into that respective area.”
The port in Savannah moves about 20,000 containers a day, according to the Georgia Ports Authority. The proposed inland port would connect Hall County to the Savannah port, shortening travel time both for imported goods coming into Hall and for products that local companies may want to export.
“Instead of having an additional seven-hour truck haul over highways to get that container from the port of Savannah here or to get the container to the port of Savannah, it can come by rail (with an inland port),” Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said.
An inland port would also take some traffic off of the interstate highways in the region by shifting that traffic to rail lines, Evans said. He said there is currently a shortage of truck drivers because of new electronic logging systems that count against a driver’s time when the truck is turned on, even if the driver is waiting on a shipment.
Businesses would also reap the benefits of an easier route for goods and materials to Savannah, Trent said.
“It’s almost like putting the Savannah Garden City Terminal right there in Northeast Georgia,” Trent said. “That makes it that much easier for particular customers to do business. It reduces their logistics costs.”
Manufacturers and processors employ about a third of Hall’s workers, Evans said, and exporting companies would have a competitive advantage with easy access to the port in Savannah.
Georgia currently has two other inland ports, in Cordele and Crandall.