Georgia Realigns and Upgrades Ports to Expand Container Capacity

Georgia realigns ports to expand container capacity
Georgia will relocate its breakbulk business to Brunswick to dedicate Savannah to container operations (GPA)

Published Dec 6, 2022 3:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

Following a significant increase in throughput causing months of backlogs as containerships waited for berth space, the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has unveiled a plan to upgrade and realign port operations in the Port of Savannah. The U.S.’s fourth-busiest container port, Savannah has witnessed a substantial increase in throughput with August and October being its busiest months ever. The goal is to accommodate more volume and ensure smooth operations of the fast-growing port.

Under the new plan, the ocean terminal in Savannah that for nearly four decades has been handling a mix of containerships and breakbulk vessels will be transformed to exclusively handle containers while breakbulk cargo will shift to the Colonel’s Island terminal at the port of Brunswick, which is approximately 70 miles to the south of Savannah. The realignment and upgrade are part of a $1.1 billion investment in infrastructure advancements that include berth expansions, container yard, and rail infrastructure approved by the GPA board over the past year. It is part of a broader plan to grow the capacity of the Port of Savannah by 60 percent from its current annual 6 million TEUs to 9.5 million TEUs by 2025.

“Completion of this project will improve our flexibility and allow Georgia ports to optimize cargo movement, supporting our customers in delivering goods to market efficiently,” said Griff Lynch, GPA executive director.

Construction has already started in Brunswick on 360,000 square feet of dockside warehousing that will serve auto processing as well as three additional buildings and 85 acres of auto storage space on the south side of the island.

The plan for Savannah calls for the renovation and realigning the docks. The 200-acre ocean terminal facility will be modified in two phases. Work will begin with rebuilding the docks to provide 2,800 linear feet of berth space, capable of serving two big ships simultaneously. The docks will be served by eight new ship-to-shore cranes. Apart from new cranes and berth enhancements, the overall project will bring expanded gate facilities and container storage space. 

Wharf renovations are slated to start in January next year, with completion of the entire terminal redevelopment expected in 2026. The work will be conducted alongside container and breakbulk operations not to disrupt current port activity.

With container throughput moderating and volumes expected to taper down toward the end of the year, the port of Savannah contends that the opening of a new container berth at Garden City terminal next summer coupled with volume declining from historic highs will help expedite the clearing of vessel backlogs.

“While we are beginning to see an anticipated market correction, it is important that GPA move forward with projects like the ocean terminal enhancements to accommodate business growth,” said Joel Wooten, GPA Board Chairman.

The ports of Savannah and Brunswick together play a major role in Georgia’s economy and the flow of commerce in the Southeast U.S. The deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support more than 561,000 jobs throughout the state annually and contribute $33 billion in income, $140 billion in revenue, and $3.8 billion in state and local taxes to Georgia’s economy.