This week’s groundbreaking for the Mason Megarail project at the Georgia Ports Authority was indeed momentous for port employees and importers who want to get their products faster to consumers in the Midwest.
Closer to home, it’s a huge deal for anyone who drives anywhere near the port on a given day or on any of the adjacent interstate highways leaving Savannah. A growing number of twenty-foot equivalent containers will leave the port by rail, not trucks.
The project will double the capacity of daily lifts at the terminal, and it will open new markets to importers using Savannah’s port. It will enable shippers that make Savannah a first U.S. stop to speed their goods to market for sale. The blueberries or bananas or other urgently needed items will arrive a day earlier in the Midwest than they would have before and likely before they’d even reach another port to be unloaded.
The rail project will give Savannah and Georgia’s port a distinct speed advantage, and make it the “first call” of choice.
Two rail terminals, run by Norfolk Southern and CSX, that serve the port will link to assemble trains up to 10,000 feet long, or 1.89 miles. The new infrastructure will add 97,000 feet of new rail at the terminal for a total of 179,000 feet. It will increase the number of working tracks from eight to 18. The $127 million project will be funded by the port and a $44 million federal grant.
There was other news last week from the port, too.
On Monday, Georgia Ports Authority board was briefed on a study by the Terry College of Business at University of Georgia that showed one in every 11 jobs in the state are tied to the port in some way.
The report called the deep-water ports one of the state’s “strongest economic engines” and gave the ports credit for fostering development of “virtually every industry.”
That’s a sterling endorsement of the state’s investment in the Savannah harbor deepening project. It’s also another very direct reminder to Congress and the president to allocate the rest of the funds needed to deepen the Savannah River and grow the investment further.
The statistics are clear: In fiscal year 2017, Georgia’s ports at Savannah and Brunswick supported 439,220 full and part-time jobs in Georgia, representing 9 percent of all state employment, or one out of 11 jobs.
Personal income from the jobs, according to the study, is $25 billion statewide for 2017.
Growth at the port has increased year over year, with a 59 percent jump in port related jobs from FY 2003 to FY 2017. In FY 2003, the ports supported 275,968 jobs.
In the last three fiscal years, from 2014 to 2017, jobs increased 19 percent, with an additional 70,000 jobs reported.
Chatham County is home to nearly 40,000 of the jobs supported directly and indirectly by the port’s growth..
County and state coffers also benefited via tax collections. Business conducted through the ports generated $5.9 billion in federal taxes, $1.4 billion in state taxes and $1.5 billion in local taxes for FY 2017.
With all of the good news, the pieces most appreciated by many will be this: It’ll be easier to drive in Garden City, Pooler and in western Chatham County after the rail project is done in less than two years.
Nearby highway rail crossings will see fewer delays and trains. And the extra-long trains to be assembled at the port will be running under car traffic as an overpass will carry traffic on Ga. 25 up and over the main rail lines and Pipemakers Canal from the port. And because the Norfolk Southern lead track will be relocated within the terminal grounds, nearly two dozen at-grade rail crossings will be removed from residential streets in Garden City, including those on Georgia highways 21 and 25.
If you drive that way each day, you’ve experienced the frequent delays from truck and train traffic. So very soon -- while Chicago gets fresher Chilean blueberries -- you’ll have a quicker trip to work.