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Ports officials hope Last Mile clears the roads

POSTED: May 7, 2012 7:55 p.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

Jamie McCurry told Effingham Chamber of Commerce members what the port's expansion means to the economy and what it could mean to the roads in the area.

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As the port of Savannah continues to grow and ships, railcars and trucks roll in and out, port officials also are anxious to make the roads around the port better — and safer.

Jamie McCurry, the director of administration for the Georgia Ports Authority, told Effingham Chamber of Commerce members Thursday morning what the GPA has in mind to alleviate the traffic in and around the nation’s fourth-largest port — and the nation’s fastest-growing port.

"The highways are very close," he said. "But we have an endeavor that we’ve had under way for the better part of the last five or six years."

The port’s Last Mile projects will bring I-516 and the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway directly into the Garden City terminal. There will be limited access roadways from I-95 and I-16 to the terminal, and trucks coming in and out of the terminal’s gate will have only one stoplight.

Completing the Last Mile, a $121 million project, could take as many as 5,000 trucks off Highway 21, according to McCurry.

"I’m sure most of the people in this room can appreciate the benefit of getting trucks off of Highway 21," he said. "That doesn’t mean they won’t be allowed to use Highway 21. There’s no real advantage for them to use 21, once the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway is completed. The goal is to eliminate the mix of commercial and commuter traffic. It not only saves time, but it’s also a much safer driving scenario.

"It goes without saying that when you do that, you create a safer environment for the cars on Highway 21."

The Jimmy DeLoach Parkway extension also is expected to relieve congestion, lessening the impact on the environment, and also reduce drive times by more than 11 minutes for commuters. The state has issued bonds to pay for the project, and the contract has been awarded. Construction is anticipated to start by the end of 2012.

It also carries a cost-benefit ratio of 6-to-1.

"All around, it’s a highly justified project," McCurry said. "That’s why the state saw fit to fully fund the $121 million project two years ago."

Savannah’s port holds an advantage over its brethren on the Eastern seaboard that also have river ports in older cities.

"One of the key infrastructure advantages we do have is the facility is up river, so traffic doesn’t have to come through the city center," McCurry said. "That’s a problem for a number of ports, particularly along the East Coast."

Also part of the road plans is the widening of Grange Road from two to three lanes.

"It will be a lot safer," McCurry said.

Grange Road widening is expected to cost $14.2 million, and the Brampton Road connector should alleviate road and rail conflicts, removing truck traffic from Garden City. The Brampton Road connector is expected to cost approximately $23.6 million.

The ports authority, through a rail bypass, is planning to avoid 23 at-grade rail crossings in Garden City and west Savannah.

"That’s a big improvement," McCurry said, "not only for the Garden City and Savannah but also for the folks commuting through that area."

Each week, the port receives 40 container vessels, and over the last few years, more of the larger ships are coming through the Suez Canal in Egypt, where there are no restrictions on the size of the ships passing through.

The Panama Canal is being enlarged, so much bigger ships can transit through. That puts those much larger ships closer to East Coast ports.

Savannah and Charleston are two of the shallowest major ports vessels call on.

"The shallowest port is going to be the one that strains the service," McCurry said. "We are going to have significant challenges if we don’t have the means to accommodate those vessels."

The harbor deepening was discussed initially 15 years ago and received authorization for planning back in 1999. But it was only three weeks ago that the final plan was submitted for public review and comment. The plan is available for public review and comment until May 21.

Four different federal agencies had to grant their express approval for the plan, including the Commerce, Interior and Army departments and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The harbor deepening project has been studied for 13 years, at a cost of $41 million. The cost of the project has gone from $230 million in 1999 to $652 million.

"The plan is ready for prime time," McCurry said.

Should the Corps approve the harbor deepening, it will be completed in 2016. McCurry said they expect to receive the go-ahead later this summer. The ship channel will be taken from 42 feet at mean low water to 47 feet.

The return on the investment in the project is 5.5-to-1, McCurry said, meaning the return is $5.50 on every dollar spent.

"That’s why the project is justified," he said. "A one-to-one ratio is justified. In this case, you’re getting five-and-a-half times what you pay for."

Harbor deepening is expected to lead to $174 million in net benefits annually to the economy.

Should the river be dredged, the GPA will have to deal with history in removing an obstacle in the way to making the channel deeper. The remains of the CSS Georgia, a Civil War ironclad, are in the bottom of the river off Fort Jackson. It was there that her crew scuttled her in 1864 as Gen. William T. Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee closed in on Savannah.

Built in Savannah, the Georgia was used as a floating battery to repel Union forces from taking Savannah by sea. Because of its historical importance and the threat of further erosion, there is currently no dredging allowed within 50 feet of the wreckage.

The material dredged from the river will be taken to a disposal site that is also where the proposed Jasper County terminal in South Carolina will be built. That port, McCurry said, is a decade away from being completed.

Since the Garden City terminal is projected to handle 6.5 million TEUs, or 20-foot equivalent units, by 2023, the Savannah port will need the Jasper County terminal, which will be down river from the Garden City and Ocean terminals.

"We certainly hope to see that to secure the long-term viability of the port," he said. "We have to have room to grow elsewhere. That’s why we need the Jasper port."

Normal dredging takes up silt, which isn’t suitable for building. But the harbor deepening will dig out material that could be used for fill that is needed to improve the Jasper County site. That could save as much as $300 million on the improvements needed.

The port has 23 ship-to-shore cranes and 96 rubber-tired gantrys and in five years, the port could add 10 ship-to-shore cranes and 74 rubber-tired gantrys.

This year, the Garden City terminal will handle 3 million TEUs, the measurement for shipping containers. That number is expected to more than double in the next decade.

The ports also are trying to find ways to cut down on their emissions. They are turning their diesel-powered cranes and gantrys into electric-powered apparatuses.

"Not only are we adding equipment, we’re adding more modern and better equipment," McCurry said.

There is a pilot program to run the rubber-tired gantrys off electricity. If that works, McCurry said, they will convert the rest of the gantrys to electric power. The annual savings on diesel fuel alone is estimated at 4.3 million gallons.

"That does several things," McCurry said. "It reduces the emissions and it reduces the noise. As we grow, we may not use less fuel than we do today, but we will use less per unit handled."

 

 

 

An overpass at railroad tracks at 307 and hope to see some funding for Brampton Road connector.

Contract has been awarded for Jimmy DeLoach Parkway extension. Probably be visibly under construction by January. You’ll start to see real progress around the first of the year.

5,000 trucks a day will have the opportunity to get off Highway 21. it goes without saying that when you do that, you create a safer environment for the cars on Highway 21. You also reduce the environmental impact with less congestion.

Drive time will be cut by 11.35 minutes

All around, it’s a highly justified project. It has a cost benefit ratio of 6:1.

"That’s why the state saw fit to fully fund the $121 million project two years ago," McCurry said.

 

 

It will essentially bring 516 and Jimmy DeLoach Parkway directly into the Garden City terminal. We have a limited access roadways from 95 and 16 to the terminal. In each of those scenarios, there is only one stoplight.

 

 

 

"We can more than double our through-put in the facility," McCurry said.

The Garden City terminal is the fourth-largest port for containers in the U.S.

Within five years, the port expects to add 10 ship-to-shore cranes and 74 rubber-tired gantrys.

"One of the key infrastructure advantages we do have is the facility is up river, so traffic doesn’t have to come through the city center. That’s a problem for a number of ports, particularly along the East Coast.

The highways are very close. But we have an endeavor that we’ve had under way for the better part of the last five or six years. It will essentially bring 516 and Jimmy DeLoach Parkway directly into the Garden City terminal. We have a limited access roadways from 95 and 16 to the terminal. In each of those scenarios, there is only one stoplight.

I’m sure most of the people in this room can appreciate the benefit of getting trucks off of Highway 21. That doesn’t mean they won’t be allowed to use Highway 21. There’s no real advantage for them to use 21, once the Jimmy DeLoach Parkway is completed. The goal is to eliminate the mix of commercial and commuter traffic. It not only saves time, but it’s also a much safer driving scenario.

An overpass at railroad tracks at 307 and hope to see some funding for Brampton Road connector.

Contract has been awarded for Jimmy DeLoach Parkway extension. Probably be visibly under construction by January. You’ll start to see real progress around the first of the year.

5,000 trucks a day will have the opportunity to get off Highway 21. it goes without saying that when you do that, you create a safer environment for the cars on Highway 21. You also reduce the environmental impact with less congestion.

Drive time will be cut by 11.35 minutes

All around, it’s a highly justified project. It has a cost benefit ratio of 6:1.

"That’s why the state saw fit to fully fund the $121 million project two years ago," McCurry said.

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