The Northeast Georgia Inland Port has entered the next phase of its approval process before construction at the 104-acre site can begin.
The regional cargo terminal will be built in Gateway Industrial Centre off Ga. 365 at White Sulphur Road. The project is expected to provide a direct shipping corridor to and from Savannah’s harbor by way of a 324-mile freight rail service,
Vice President of Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce Tim Evans said the project is now undergoing a National Environmental Policy Act study in coordination with the U.S. Maritime Administration, which will conduct a review to assess the potential environmental impact on the area as a preliminary measure to receive federal funding.
Evans said once the project clears this initial hurdle, a construction contract can then be approved and work can begin.
“That’s really the next step is that they would have a contract to actually start construction,” Evans said. “[The review] is required for any project that has federal dollars going into it.”
The project, expected to involve the shipment of up to 200,000 containers a year, would stimulate the regional economy, create additional jobs and effectively reduce traffic congestion in northeast Georgia by minimizing the number of vehicles transporting goods on the roads.
Evans explained the significance of the “new, faster trade route” for container traffic and imports and exports traveling by ocean freight, noting the reduction vehicular traffic in the region.
“The effect is that freight can move by rail from Gainesville to Savannah and [from] Savannah to Gainesville, effectively removing those trucks from the 7-hour haul that they’re currently taking by highway,” Evans said.
The Inland Port, according to Evans, could by design alleviate more recent economic problems, like labor shortages and supply chain issues, as new direct rail service to and from Savannah’s port would shorten transportation time and the need for drivers and trucks involved in the shipment of goods.
“It’s a new trade route,” Evans said. “It speeds to market, but also – for anyone that has seen the logistics issues of the last 2-3 years – there’s been, at times, shortages of trucks, of drivers, of trailer frames to be able to move containers away from the port…one train of 100 car-lengths can potentially carry 200 40-foot containers. That [would be] 200 trucks, 200 drivers, 200 trailer frames now being carried by one-unit trains.”
Build-ups of shipping containers that clogged Savannah’s port last year, forcing ships to wait idle at sea and lengthening delays in the shipment of goods, might also be resolved to some extent once the new port is constructed.
“There was also a build-up of containers at the port facility [in Savannah] that caused congestion,” Evans said. “The Inland Port terminal helps address all of those issues.”
Manager of Communications for the Georgia Ports Authority Edward Fulford, who confirmed the Inland Port is moving through NEPA review phases, also described the potential economic and environmental magnitude of the project in the region.
“[The project] would include six railroad tracks with a combined length of approximately 18,000 feet connecting with the Norfolk Southern Crescent Corridor,” Fulford said. “The facility will also provide secure, efficient gate facilities for truck access, featuring two inbound lanes with a kiosk and two outbound lanes with a kiosk. The Northeast Georgia Inland Port will serve the region’s thriving manufacturing and logistics corridor by shifting more containers from truck to rail. Use of inland terminals reduces highway traffic, cuts carbon emissions and lowers costs for cargo owners.”
The environmental review is expected to be complete by 2023. According to Evans, the Inland Port could be “fully operational” by late-2024 or early-2025.