The vertical integration that is helping drive record volumes across Port of Savannah docks extends to encompass a growing network of inland intermodal ports, with construction to begin this year on the Georgia Ports Authority’s second such facility following the summer 2018 opening of its first.

“It’s been well-covered in the industry, but not everybody’s doing something about it, and that is the trucking,” GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch told AJOT. “As always at the GPA, we want to insert ourselves into the supply chain and identify how we can help our customers, and one of the areas where the supply chain is struggling right now is trucking.”

With multiple factors constraining U.S. trucking capacity, Lynch said, “The GPA, in its drive to provide options to our customers, is aggressively seeking to invest in inland ports.”

While inland barge facilities operated by the GPA in Bainbridge and Columbus, in southwest and west-central Georgia, respectively, date back more than a half a century and are still termed “inland ports,” and a privately operated hub opened in 2013 at Cordele in south-central Georgia, the authority’s first true inland intermodal facility saw its opening this past August.

Intermodal rail activity is picking up at the Georgia Ports Authority’s Appalachian Regional Port, the first of an envisioned network of GPA inland hubs.
Intermodal rail activity is picking up at the Georgia Ports Authority’s Appalachian Regional Port, the first of an envisioned network of GPA inland hubs.

That inaugural facility – the 42-acre Appalachian Regional Port – is located on CSX tracks near Interstate 75 in Chatsworth, nearly 350 highway miles from Savannah docks, about 90 miles north-northwest of Atlanta. It already is helping efficiently move cargos between the Port of Savannah and customers across North Georgia, Northeast Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky while offering rail service that averts congestion faced by trucks.

“The GPA is aggressively inserting itself and saying, ‘We want to provide the service and location. We want to control the freight right up to your doorstep if possible,’” Lynch said.

“We see customers converting their supply chain to that [Appalachian Regional Port] as we speak, which is really exciting,” he continued.

In December, state officials detailed plans to build the Northeast Georgia Inland Port along Norfolk Southern tracks near the I-85 corridor in Gainesville, almost 300 highway miles from Savannah, about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta.

“I think you’ll see Northeast Georgia really grow very rapidly,” Lynch said of the facility, which is slated to open in 2021.

“Ultimately,” he said, “this is kind of in a way like an Amazon effect. What Amazon did was say, ‘We want to provide a way to provide the customer a better experience, and the experience is we don’t need you to go out to a parking lot and get in a fender bender like my mother did back in 1974 when she was Christmas shopping. You can do this from your home, and we’re going to have a box come right to your house.’ Who would’ve ever thought this was possible?

“Well,” Lynch added, “I think, in the container sector, who would’ve ever thought that containerports would be taking control of inland destinations 300 miles away from the port and delivering the cargo to the customer?”

On Dec. 3, the same day Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced the Northeast Georgia Inland Port plans, vehicle body panel and trim distributor Auto Metal Direct revealed intentions to build a 318,000-square-foot distribution center in the same industrial park complex, joining such installations already in place as the multiple plants making Kubota tractors, utility vehicles and related units. (For more on Kubota, see Industry Profile on page 2)

“It was a no-brainer,” Lynch said, citing desire of Auto Metal Direct executives to build the center adjacent to inland port capabilities. “Now, a decision for a port to do something is driving habits of our end customers, and they are locating and will continue to locate in and around these inland ports.

“We are looking at another location for our customers at Kia,” he said, referencing that automaker’s 2,200-acre plant in West Point, Georgia, near the Georgia-Alabama line in the west-central portion of the Peach State. “We are beginning that process now. There is no imminent decision on that. But I will tell you that in the next year or so we hope to have some kind of way ahead on that one as well.”